CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A four-member investigative team with the U.S. Chemical Safety Board intends to find out why and how a 35,000 gallon storage tank leaked 7,500 gallons of crude MCHM, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol in the Elk River in Charleston causing a water emergency in parts of nine West Virginia counties.
CSB lead investigator Johnnie Banks told MetroNews Wednesday evening the team has been on the Freedom Industries site since Monday taking a look at the tank in question.
“We’ve been able to photo document the scene. We have a contractor that’s taken photos of where we suspect the failure occurred but we want to put that failure area under forensic analysis,” Banks said.
The team has also met with Freedom Industries President Gary Southern and received the names of key employees whom the CSB wants to interview. Banks said Southern has been cooperating.
“The president has been very accommodating. He’s being pulled in four or five different directions, but we’ve not had any issues with him in terms of accessibility or him working with us,” Banks said.
At some point the CSB hopes to remove a section of the tank and take it to a central lab for testing.
“We hope to put it under close scrutiny and examine the area where we suspect the failure occurred. We want to put it under electro microscope and determine the failure mode,” Banks said.
There are already a number of lawsuits filed in connection with the spill and Banks said the plaintiffs would also be part of the testing process.
“They will observe the testing,” he said.
The goal of the CSB investigation is not only to find out how the leak began but why it began according to Banks. He said another area of inquiry will be the question of regulation of above ground storage facilities.
Banks said his agency has never investigated a spill involving crude MCHM, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, but he doesn’t anticipate that being a problem. He promised a broad investigation.
“That would be accurate,” he said.
Banks added it’s important for the CSB team to be on site in the days after the incident to get the freshest information possible.
“We need access to the employees while the information is still fresh in their minds and they haven’t compared notes with one another, their colleagues, and kind of shifted their reality,” he said.
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board also investigated the Sissonville natural gas line explosion in Dec. 2012, the Bayer Crop Science plant explosion in Institute in August 2008 and the Jan. 2007 Little General Store propane gas explosion.