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West Virginia Chemical Spill – Update and Questions


Who is Freedom Industries?- video, MSNBC

It started innocently enough. On the morning of January 9, 2014, area residents noticed an odor, and complained. The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Water and Waste Management (DEP) issued a Cease Operations Order to Freedom Industries Etowah River Terminal, LLC in connection with the company’s leak of MCHM into the Elk River from its storage facility in Charleston. The DEP explained:

An investigation was initiated by the Division of Air Quality that morning following citizen complaints of objectionable odors near and downriver from Freedom Industries’ Etowah River Terminal. At 11:10 a.m., DAQ personnel discovered the source of these odors was from a leaking Crude MCHM tank and that no spill containment measures had been initiated. The crew also observed that an accumulated pool of MCHM was seeping through a containment dike.

The release occurred approximately 1.5 miles upstream from the intake of the local public water supply and the spilled material has caused conditions not allowable in the Elk River by creating odors in the vicinity of state waters, by requiring an unreasonable degree of treatment for the production of potable water, and by creating a sheen on the surface of the water, a violation of 47 CSR 2, Section 3.

Freedom Industries logo
Image by Mike Licht on Flickr

In other words, the company did nothing until the smell was so bad that people complained, but it gets worse. Three hundred thousand people in coal country, or more like, a quarter of the state was declared a catastrophe the next day, when President Obama and FEMA declared eight counties a disaster area. That DO NOT USE order means business. That means that unless you plan to put out a fire or flush a toilet, that’s the end of that- no water for you: no shower, no baby formula, no toothbrush, if you run a business? You have to put a sign in the window and close it. This is day seven, for many, of lost revenue.

CommunityMy FDL

Over Easy: West Virginia Chemical Spill – Update and Questions


Who is Freedom Industries?- video, MSNBC

It started innocently enough. On the morning of January 9, 2014, area residents noticed an odor, and complained. The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Water and Waste Management (DEP) issued a Cease Operations Order to Freedom Industries Etowah River Terminal, LLC in connection with the company’s leak of MCHM into the Elk River from its storage facility in Charleston. The DEP explained:

An investigation was initiated by the Division of Air Quality that morning following citizen complaints of objectionable odors near and downriver from Freedom Industries’ Etowah River Terminal. At 11:10 a.m., DAQ personnel discovered the source of these odors was from a leaking Crude MCHM tank and that no spill containment measures had been initiated. The crew also observed that an accumulated pool of MCHM was seeping through a containment dike.

The release occurred approximately 1.5 miles upstream from the intake of the local public water supply and the spilled material has caused conditions not allowable in the Elk River by creating odors in the vicinity of state waters, by requiring an unreasonable degree of treatment for the production of potable water, and by creating a sheen on the surface of the water, a violation of 47 CSR 2, Section 3.

Freedom Industries logo
Image by Mike Licht on Flickr

In other words, the company did nothing until the smell was so bad that people complained, but it gets worse. Three hundred thousand people in coal country, or more like, a quarter of the state was declared a catastrophe the next day, when President Obama and FEMA declared eight counties a disaster area. That DO NOT USE order means business. That means that unless you plan to put out a fire or flush a toilet, that’s the end of that- no water for you: no shower, no baby formula, no toothbrush, if you run a business? You have to put a sign in the window and close it. This is day seven, for many, of lost revenue.

Needless to say, Freedom Industries (who are they, by the way?) is already on an apparently packed docket featuring barking mad lawyers who haven’t showered or brushed their teeth in days:’

At least 17 similar lawsuits are on the local court docket. Eventually they’ll be consolidated before a special judicial panel, predicted Anthony Majestro of Powell & Majestro, one of Peterson’s co-counsel. When all is said and done, lost revenue, wages, and other economic harm in Charleston and surrounding counties will total a half-billion dollars, the plaintiffs’ lawyers estimated. “This thing has disrupted life throughout the region and reminded us of the recklessness these companies engage in,” Peterson said. In an area whose industrial history has earned it the nickname Chemical Valley, the environmental mess also underscores the consequences of powerful business and political opposition to aggressive oversight.

On January 10, President Obama authorized West Virginia to be declared a disaster area, so that residents in eight counties can qualify for federal aid through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). A ‘do not use’ order was issued to the affected area, leaving 300,000 residents without potable water.

Yesterday, West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin issued a list of water distribution centers, with addresses, phone numbers, and hours of operation, for residents of West Virginia who are under a DO NOT USE order, for water. He says that more West Virginians have seen the order lifted for their area and have been asked to begin the “flushing process.” More than one-third of the affected customers have had safe water restored.”West Virginia American Water Company reports that samples taken at its treatment plant intake now show no presence of the chemical.”

Governor Tomblin explains that the National Guard is helping to distribute bottled water, and asks residents to refer to West Virginia American Water’s website for status updates. The intake pipes for the water company are unfortunately situated about a mile downstream on the Elk River from Freedom Industries, Inc., the (esoteric) chemical company where the chemical spill occurred.

The chemical that leaked from one of Freedom Industry’s tanks is called 4-Methylcyclohexane methanol, or MCHM. MCHM is classified as an alcohol and it is used in the coal industry in a patented process called coal flotation using 4-methylcyclohexane methanol frothers. The chemical washes coal by separating sand-size particles of coal from the surrounding rock within a tank of water or other solution. MCHM is utilized in about 20 to 25 percent of coal preparation plants in West Virginia.

I said a-broom-push-a-broom. You literally can’t make this stuff up: Single cinder block was used to contain toxic chemical prior to mass W. Virginia spill. Several questions come to mind for me, as a layperson, on this issue:

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