Energy & Environment

Morgantown Learning Lessons from Elk River Spill

Jan 21, 2014
Ashton Marra

The City of Morgantown’s water utility says it’s using the unfortunate chemical spill in Charleston as a learning opportunity. It is taking action to prevent problems should a similar situation happen in Morgantown. Of course, if the Governor has his way, the changes may not be optional.

Graphic Detailing the Elk River zone of critical concern, from downstream strategies new report.
Downstream Strategies

Downstream Strategies President Evan Hansen has worked on a report called "The Freedom Industries Spill: Lessons Learned and Needed Reforms." Hansen says new regulations on storage facilities, like the one involved in the Elk River spill, are only a first step towards prevention.

Hansen also suggests:

Freedom Industries
Aaron Payne / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

 

 

The company blamed for a chemical spill that left 300,000 West Virginians without safe drinking water has filed for bankruptcy.

Freedom Industries Inc. filed for bankruptcy Friday with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of West Virginia.

Company president Gary Southern signed the paperwork.

 The “do not use” order has been lifted for the last customer area in West Virginia American Water’s Kanawha Valley district. Customers in the Clendenin area may begin flushing according to the established guidelines. Although the online map currently reflects that all areas have  turned blue, customers should  keep in mind that precautionary boil water advisories are in place for several smaller groups of customers throughout the district after water storage tanks were depleted following excessive flushing activities.

The company that runs the facility that caused the chemical leak into the Elk River in Charleston, W.Va., has a new owner.

Freedom Industries
Aaron Payne / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The company whose spill contaminated the water supply for 300,000 West Virginians has been cited for violations at a second facility where it's storing chemicals.

Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Tom Aluise says inspectors found five violations Monday at a Nitro site, known as Poca Blending, LLC, where Freedom Industries moved its coal-cleaning chemicals after Thursday's spill.

“If it’s good enough to wash coal, it’s good enough to wash me.” That’s a tweet that supposedly went out from the West Virginia Coal Association in response to the Elk River chemical spill. No such remark exists on the association's feed today, but the sentiment sparked reactions from many, including one southern W.Va. health campaign. In the aftermath of the MCHM spill, they’re bringing up questions about certain coal mining practices.

Scott Finn / Twitter: @radiofinn

Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Randy Huffman says he and Gov. Tomblin are already having conversations about what possible legislation can be introduced following last week’s chemical spill.

Officials at Downstream Strategies in Morgantown say the Freedom Industries facility slipped through many gaps in the regulatory system. One of these gaps is that since the company wasn’t storing a petroleum product just a few miles from the water intake, it wasn’t subject to a lot of regulations and oversight that would have required stronger contingency plans, in case a spill happened, and much more frequent reporting.

"As a product, MCHM is not a hazardous substance. There's only very limited toxicology data on that, but it's not regulated as a hazardous substance itself, just a component of it is, which is methanol," said Marc Glass with Downstream Strategies.

"It's a mixture of several components."

  Glass,  says collaboration and cooperation between the utility company, along with the industry and even environmental regulators, must be much better.

He says there’s a framework, an assessment plan that was written in 2002, that could act as a tool to help all stakeholders work together better. It's a source water assessment program, that was actually written for the Elk River. This assessment is located here.

The 2002 assessment suggested, amongst other things, that a secondary source of water should be identified to help protect drinking water when incidents occur.

But Glass says regardless of what is done, it needs to happen soon, because incidents like this one could certainly happen at any time, if problems are neglected.

“It’s certainly a wake up call for what could have happened, and a good opportunity to take heed of just how critical access to clean water, how critical that is for our economy," Glass said.

"We always talk about the challenges of balancing the environment with the economy, but just look at what happens to the economy when we don't have the availability of good, clean water.
 

Scott Finn / Twitter: @radiofinn

West Virginia American Water began the long-awaited flushing process yesterday afternoon for residents who have been without water since Thursday.

Residents in the nine counties began the flushing process using an interactive online map. The chemical leak has left residents without the use of water since Thursday. Residents have been instructed to follow a detailed process once their area is in the blue zone on a map at amwater.com. Jeff McIntyre is President of West Virginia American Water. He said it’s a three-step process.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

  The aftermath of last week's chemical spill continues. On this West Virginia Morning, we learn why the Department of Environmental Protection wasn't inspecting the storage tank. Also, an interview with WVU interim president E. Gordon Gee.

Ashton Marra

John Kaiser of Dunbar has been without water since Thursday. No dishes, no laundry, no shower just like 300,000 other West Virginians.

But Sunday, you could say, was a better day for Kaiser. Sunday one of his three Kanawha County restaurants—a Steak Escape connected to a gas station on Corridor G—was allowed to reopen.

“You had to submit a plan to the health department of how you would meet their standards,” he said. “We did that and they came out (Saturday) night, did a walk through, did an inspection and they approved us.”

C.W Sigman

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board says it will investigate a chemical spill in the Elk River that has contaminated the public water supply in nine counties.
 
     Board chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso said Saturday that the board wants to find out how a leak of such magnitude occurred, and how to prevent similar incidents in the future.
 

Aaron Payne / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The West Virginia Poison Control Center has received nearly 800 calls from concerned residents since a chemical spilled in the Elk River.
 

gavel
wikimedia / Wikimedia

At least half a dozen lawsuits have been filed over a chemical spill in West Virginia that contaminated water supplies.

Major questions remain in the chemical spill from Freedom Industries, Inc. in the contamination of West Virginia American Water supplies across nine counties. West Virginia Public Broadcasting news director Beth Vorhees interviews Mark Glass from Downstream Strategies, Ashton Marra reports on the recent press conference at West Virginia American Water, and Dave Mistich gives a run down of activity on social media.

Stream the audio above to find out the latest from our Charleston news bureau and be sure to follow @wvpublicnews.

West Virginia National Guard

As the National Guard joins Governor Tomblin as well as various county, state, and federal authorities in helping those affected by the state of emergency due a chemical leak and water advisory, we here at West Virginia Public Broadcasting will do our best to keep you informed on water distribution centers and filling stations as they become available.  Below is the most up-to-date list of these centers we have.

Department of Environmental Protection, DEP
Department of Environmental Protection

State regulators have issued a pollution violation notice to an oil and gas drilling company following a tank explosion at a Tyler County well site.
 
     The Department of Environmental Protection said Wednesday that the tank ruptured on Jan. 2 at Jay-Bee Oil & Gas' Lisby gas well pad. Fluid leaked from the tank onto grounds surrounding the well pad.
 

Cecelia Mason / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

West Virginia is beginning to warm up a bit following an arctic blast that broke cold temperature records across the state.
 
     Temperatures on Wednesday morning ranged from 4 degrees in Elkins and Lewisburg to 12 degrees in Bluefield.
 

West Virginia is about to experience the coldest temperatures the state has seen in about 20 years.

The National Weather Service issued the following winter weather message mentioning several counties in northern Virginia, western Maryland and eastern West Virginia this afternoon:

Roscoe Bartlett, U.S. Representative for Maryland's 6th congressional district from 1993 to 2013, is going "off the grid" in the mountains of West Virginia. By building his own home powered by solar energy, and attempting to live off resources collected himself, Bartlett says his mission is to be “independent of the system.”

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