The Elk River chemical spill has opened up a number of questions about safety regulations, or lack thereof, and how one leaky storage tank was able to contaminate the drinking water for 300,000 West Virginians. Now, West Virginia Gazette reports that three months before the leak happened, federal safety inspectors found that the chemical storage tanks at Freedom Industries did not meet industry standards.
During a congressional field hearing about the Elk River chemical spill, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) said that the Freedom tanks were “not necessarily in full compliance” with the standards of industry and federal government. In a prepared testimony, Rafael Moure-Eraso, chairman of the CSB, discussed an October 2013 inspection conducted at the Freedom storage facility. “The tanks in use at Freedom Industries were over one-half century old… Considering the best way to improve the safety of tanks at facilities that have similar tanks in use is an important question.” The CSB makes recommendations to industry and other agencies about how safety measures can be improved. They are currently investigating Freedom Industries to find out exactly what happened at the spill site.
Freedom Industries had hired Tank Engineering and Management Consultants to conduct the October 2013 inspection. According to Moure-Eraso’s testimony, the firm’s review stated that crude MCHM was not considered “hazardous” with regards to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations. Moure-Eraso said that because of this, the storage tank that leaked MCHM on January 9th was not looked at during the inspection.
At the hearing, CSB officials showed a blown-up state Department of Environmental Protection photo of the two small holes that developed at the bottom of the tank. CSB investigators also discovered that the spill prevention and containment techniques were inadequate and “provided very little protection from a possible release”. The company’s “secondary containment wall” was made up of cinder blocks that surrounded the tank. Moure-Eraso pointed out that “Company documents further show that the wall was not lined and that tank 396 rested directly on porous material including gravel and soil,”
The October 2013 report also pointed out potential issues with settling of the tank could impact their stability, according to Johnnie Banks, CSB’s lead investigator of the Freedom Industries probe. “There was some concern about the condition of the tanks,” he said after Monday’s hearing.
The Elk River chemical spill has highlighted a number of gaps in regulation when it comes to above ground storage facilities. Moure-Eraso says that broader measures should be taken to ensure “inherent safety.” He said that the facility should not have been located near a main water supply to begin with, “And although relocating it would have had some costs, those pale beside the costs that thousands of West Virginia residents and businesses are now paying for this disaster.”