So let’s get this straight.
Freedom Industries figured it was safe to store a toxic chemical in a 70-plus year old tank a stone’s throw from the Elk River and a mile and a half from the intake valve for the water supply for the Kanawha Valley.
Then when the state DEP showed up at Freedom two weeks ago to investigate a strong licorice smell, at first company officials said they didn’t know anything about it.
A quick survey of the property found Crude MCHM spouting out of the ground from a leaking tank and draining into the river. A slip-shod secondary containment system failed, but don’t worry; Freedom said it had plans to fix that.
Freedom finally phoned in the spill after the DEP had been on sight for over an hour. West Virginia American Water made a decision not to close its intake, saying the loss of pressure would diminish fire protection.
That’s a decision worth more investigation in the coming weeks, but let’s get back to Freedom Industries.
A day after the spill, Freedom President Gary Southern held a brief news conference, notable for announcing that he had had “an extremely long day. I’m having trouble talking. I’d appreciate it if we could wrap this thing up.”
Southern and Freedom then dropped out of public view, leaving the public relations disaster to the water company, local, state and federal officials. At least one investigating agency, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, reported Freedom was cooperating with them.
But then Tuesday, Freedom dropped this bomb: Southern revealed to the DEP that the leaking tank contained a second previously undisclosed chemical, PPH. About 300 gallons of the chemical, which is not as toxic as MCHM, was in the tank, but it was unclear how much got into the river, and the water supply.
The Charleston Gazette reports that when he clued in the DEP’s Mike Dorsey on the stunning news, Southern added, presumably without irony, “I’m going to have a terrible day today.”
You’re going to have a bad day? Tell that to the 300,000 West Virginia American Water Company customers who are already on the verge of grabbing their pitchforks and torches.
An irate DEP ordered Freedom to disclose by 4 p.m. yesterday what else spilled in the river. “Having this revelation so late in the game is completely unacceptable,” said DEP Secretary Randy Huffman.
Indeed it is. However, considering how Freedom Industries has handled this whole mess, it’s not terribly surprising.