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OSHA: Poca Blending ‘in compliance’

A facility involved in the Freedom Industries chemical leak and water contamination did not violate any federal health or safety laws, an investigating agency determined.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration closed its “partial” investigation into Poca Blending LLC, the Nitro-based Freedom Industries facility cited five times by the state after taking chemicals and waste from the leak site.

“No issues were found at that facility,” said OSHA spokeswoman Lenore Uddyback-Fortson in a June 24 email to the Daily Mail.

When there is an inspection, the agency looks for violations of federal Occupational Safety and Health acts. Uddyback-Fortson said the facility was “in compliance” with federal law, but said she couldn’t release documents detailing how investigators arrived at the conclusion without a Freedom of Information Act request.

“It’s not readily available, so you need to file a FOIA request for the investigative file,” Uddyback-Fortson said, after initially saying the investigation file wasn’t “public information.”

The Daily Mail filed a request June 25. A Labor Department representative said in an email Tuesday the department had received the request but wanted more information before it could be processed.

Uddyback-Fortson has stopped responding to requests for more information.

OSHA closed the Poca Blending case June 3, according to the agency’s website. The conclusion comes nearly six months after at least 10,000 gallons of chemicals contaminated drinking water for 300,000 West Virginia residents.

On Jan. 9, the state Department of Environmental Protection found tanks containing MCHM and other chemicals leaking through a cement wall and into the Elk River. The chemicals eventually overwhelmed the local water treatment plant, resulting in a temporary do-not-use water order for more than 15 percent of West Virginia’s population.

On Jan. 10 the DEP told Freedom it had to find a new location for the hundreds of thousands of gallons of MCHM and other chemicals stored at its Etowah River Terminal. Freedom moved it to Poca Blending, a facility located at an industrial park in Nitro.

The state didn’t inspect the site before allowing Freedom to move the chemicals to Poca. After the chemicals arrived, the DEP discovered holes in the walls that serve as emergency barriers in the event of another leak.

“Secondary containment within the facility was deteriorated or non-existent,” the DEP inspection report states.

“The plan indicates that the building itself acts as secondary containment, but holes exist at floor level in the building’s walls.”

The DEP issued five notices of violations following the Jan. 13 inspection. OSHA opened its own investigation Jan. 15 “following a media report of potential chemical storage hazards,” according to an OSHA announcement at the time.

It also opened an investigation Jan. 10 at the Freedom site. Both were the first OSHA inspections of either facility, Uddyback-Fortson told the Daily Mail at the time.

She said the inspection of the Freedom site is ongoing.

DEP spokeswoman Kelley Gillenwater said she hadn’t heard OSHA had completed its investigation of Poca Blending.

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher@dailymailwv.com. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.

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