CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection says he thinks the new rules the DEP is currently writing for above-ground storage tanks as part of a new state law will address the problems found at Freedom Industries in Charleston — the starting point for the Jan. 9 chemical spill that contaminated tap water in parts of nine West Virginia counties.
“I believe that the testing protocols that we’re going to be proposing here, through the rule, would absolutely have caught this (and) maybe have prevented it to begin with,” Randy Huffman said on Thursday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
On Wednesday, investigators with the U.S. Chemical Safety Board were in Charleston to detail their findings — up to this point — on the chemical spill along the Elk River. Those with the CSB have determined crude MCHM leaked from two holes in a storage tank that were created through corrosion inside the tank after water came in through holes in the top of the tank.
Investigators said a hard freeze on Jan. 8 may have been a contributing factor leading to the sudden release of the MCHM that made it into the Elk River and, later downstream, into West Virginia American Water Company’s Kanawha Valley Water Treatment Facility which serves an estimated 300,000 state residents.
Legislation lawmakers approved earlier this year includes requirements for annual inspections, leak detection systems and spill response plans for storage tanks similar to those now being demolished at Freedom Industries.
Officials with the DEP are still working on the details of those regulations. “Holes don’t rust in steel overnight or in a year or in six months. It happens over a long period of time and these tanks, according to the CSB, there was no inspection plan by the company in place to even detect this themselves and that’s why they recommend regulations,” Huffman said.
Before the new law, no independent regular inspections were required either. “Corrosion can be picked up and any other structural integrity issues can be picked up through certain testing protocols and that’s what we will be requiring,” he said.
CSB investigators will be conducting additional soil tests to determine if crude MCHM was leaking into the Elk River before the spill was first found.
Huffman said he thinks that’s unlikely. “We were smelling it in our water, in our drinking water at extremely low detection limits,” he said. “To our knowledge, there were no complaints, no issues with it being smelled either in anyone’s tap water or in and around the plant, to any degree, prior to Jan. 9.”
Companies with storage tanks that fall under the new law have been registering those tanks with the state DEP through an online portal as the rule-writing continues.
Additionally, as part of the new law, all public water utilities that rely on surface water will have to develop and implement a source water protection plan by July 1, 2016.