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OSHA fines Freedom $11K in chemical spill

By From staff, wire reports

A federal agency has fined the company that spilled chemicals into West Virginia’s largest drinking water supply $11,000 for a pair of workplace safety violations.

The Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined Freedom Industries $7,000 for keeping storage tanks containing crude MCHM behind a diked wall that was not liquid tight. On Jan. 9, roughly 10,000 gallons of MCHM leaked from one of the tanks and through the riverside diked wall and left 300,000 residents without clean water for days.

OSHA also fined Freedom Industries $4,000 for failing to have standard railings on an elevated platform.

Inspectors classified both of those citations as “serious,” meaning the workplace hazards could cause an accident or illness that would most likely result in death or serious physical harm.

OSHA also issued to Freedom one “other-than-serious” citation, alleging the company did not properly label one of its chemical storage tanks at the Elk River site. OSHA said that one of the tanks — not the one that leaked on Jan. 9 — was labeled as containing glycerin, when it actually contained MCHM.

OSHA issued the citations on July 3. Freedom can pay the fines, seek a meeting to discuss the citations with the OSHA area director, or appeal the matter to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. Freedom Industries did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The day after the January spill, OSHA launched an investigation at the Freedom site. It was the federal agency’s first inspection at the facility. OSHA had in started to examine the operation in November 2009 as part of a program of special emphasis looking at accidents that prompted amputations.

But agency officials discovered that Freedom was in the wrong industry classification for that program, and the inspection was never performed, officials have said.

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