CSB chief: Agency unlikely to add to Freedom spill report

Gazette-Mail file photo
CSB Chairwoman Vanessa Allen Sutherland talks about the Freedom Industries chemical spill during a news conference in September at the Four Points Sheraton, in Charleston.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board is not planning to supplement or make any changes to its report on the Freedom Industries chemical spill and the Kanawha Valley water crisis that followed, the chairwoman of the board said Thursday.

“At this point, it is unlikely that there will be an actual addendum or supplement,” Chairwoman Vanessa Allen Sutherland said.

Sutherland said the CSB’s investigation team had completed its review of public comments submitted to the board and recommended that an addendum, correction or supplement was not necessary. She said that recommendation was communicated to board members and is expected to be approved. She said the board would make public a document that provides information about the staff review of the public comments, but that wouldn’t constitute a report addendum.

Sutherland made her comments during an interview Thursday after she delivered a keynote address at a meeting sponsored by three industry groups, the West Virginia Chemical Manufacturers Association, the American Chemistry Council and the National Association of Chemical Distributors.

During her speech, Sutherland outlined the CSB’s report on the Freedom incident but did not mention the controversy over complaints from residents and scientists about the agency’s findings and recommendations.

Also, Sutherland said in the interview that, at some point, the board has to actually complete its reports, and that the process can’t be so open-ended that new information that is provided — perhaps years later — requires investigation reports to be changed.

The latest comments from Sutherland come just a week after she said during a board business meeting that CSB staff investigators still were reviewing the public comments, along with submissions from some scientists and others about the board’s report.

At the end of a three-hour public meeting in Charleston, Sutherland had hinted that the board might produce some sort of “addendum” or “supplement” to the report of its investigation of the Jan. 9, 2014, incident. Board members, though, approved the staff’s draft report — which they had been reviewing for months, but the public had been given just a few hours before the public meeting.

Sutherland said Thursday that calling the Freedom report provided to the public a “draft” document was probably not correct. She said it really was a “final” product for board approval, given that she and other board members had had opportunities to review earlier drafts and ask questions or make suggestions.

While the board’s 125-page report outlined a variety of missteps by Freedom, regulators, the water company and emergency responders, the CSB’s formal recommendations included no specific calls for reforms by federal, state or local agencies that regulate companies that store dangerous chemicals or drinking-water providers.

During the public meeting, residents complained that the CSB didn’t provide clear answers about how much of the various chemicals — Crude MCHM, PPH and others — leaked from a tank where Freedom stored a coal-industry cleaning chemical it marketed as Shurflot 944. Residents also objected to what they said was a lack of any real information about the long-term health effects of the spill.

Other residents told personal stories about how they still don’t trust the West Virginia American Water supply so long after the incident and how they and their families continue to buy bottled water instead.

Two retired Union Carbide chemists, who have become part-time activists since the Freedom incident, also questioned whether the CSB really had explained how the company’s tank corroded and fully connected all of the dots about how the spill turned into a regional water crisis.

In perhaps the strongest criticism of the CSB report, engineer Andrew Whelton, of Purdue University — one of the leaders of a team hired by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to investigate the spill — had called on the CSB to withdraw its report, saying he was “flabbergasted” by inaccuracies he found throughout the document.

West Virginia American also criticized the CSB report, saying that a recommendation for its parent company to improve its review of potentially dangerous chemicals located upstream from water intakes would be better aimed at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which could write nationwide rules to require all water companies to take such actions.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1702 or follow @kenwardjr on Twitter.

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