West Virginia official: Spill company knew of 2nd chemical

JONATHAN MATTISE, Associated Press Updated: January 24, 2014 at 2:49 pm • Published: January 24, 2014 0

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The company at the center of the West Virginia water crisis immediately knew a second chemical leaked from its plant into the Elk River, and told its workers in an email, according to a state environmental official.

However, Freedom Industries did not let state government officials know about the second chemical right away. And state environmental department official Mike Dorsey said Thursday that most company employees did not skim far enough into the email to see that information.

It's unclear who sent the email or how many of the company's 51 employees it reached. Dorsey made the remarks on MetroNews radio, explaining the 12-day delay in the second chemical's disclosure. He could not be reached for comment Friday.

"The explanation I was given was that they had the information on the very first day," said Dorsey, chief of the state environmental agency's homeland security and emergency response division. "It was in an email that was being shared among company employees, but no one read far enough down the page to see that."

A chemical used to clean coal spilled from the tank into the river Jan. 9. About 300,000 people couldn't drink or bathe in the water for almost a week. Freedom Industries President Gary Southern told environmental officials this week that a second, less toxic chemical also was mixed in the tank.

A call to Freedom Industries was not immediately returned Friday.

Those are the only chemicals that spilled, the company wrote to state regulators Thursday. The state tested for the second chemical, stripped PPH, at the water plant and scoured older tests for the substance, but found no traces. Testing will continue.

A top investigator with the Chemical Safety Board also weighed in on the spill in front of a state legislative water policy committee Friday. The federal board is one of many government entities investigating the Charleston spill.

Investigator Johnnie A. Banks said it will likely take a year until the board produces a report with findings. The panel can, however, set up public meetings to share periodic updates. The meetings would take place in Charleston, he said.

When state environmental inspectors showed up at Freedom Industries Jan. 9, they described a chemical, crude MCHM, oozing from the pierced tank through a cracked containment wall into the river.

But Banks didn't depict any fatal flaws when his team arrived Jan. 13. He also said a hard freeze might have helped create the 1-inch hole in the tank that leaked, which Freedom Industries has theorized.

"There was nothing that jumped out at you that said this containment was inadequate or that the tank is going to fail," Banks told reporters.

On Tuesday, Freedom Industries reached a bankruptcy court deal for up to $4 million in credit from a lender to help continue operations, an attorney said.

The bankruptcy filing freezes dozens of lawsuits against Freedom Industries. Many are by local businesses owners who say they lost money during a water-use ban that lasted several days.

Under state orders, the company still needs to relocate almost 1 million gallons of other chemicals at its Charleston plant.

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