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Report: Roughly 1,600 tanks are near public WV water sources

Bob Wojcieszak
The state Department of Environmental Protection is trying to get a handle on how many facilities exist in West Virginia similar to Freedom Industries, which leaked thousands of gallons of chemical into the water supply.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There might be at least 1,600 aboveground storage tanks at more than 100 facilities near public water sources across West Virginia, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

That number could change as the DEP continues its efforts to inventory potential threats to public safety following the recent massive chemical leak.

"They're fluid documents and will change... as we make our way to more and more of the sites in the zones of critical concern, where we'll potentially discover fewer or more tanks than we originally estimated," said DEP spokesman Tom Aluise.

"Our focus right now is to get accurate information on the sites in the ZCC (zones of critical concern)."

A zone of critical concern is an area in direct proximity of a public water intake. Any potential contaminant contained in the zone that leaks is very likely to reach a public water intake within five hours, according to the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

On Jan. 9 officials discovered thousands of gallons of chemicals leaking from a faulty storage tank owned by Freedom Industries into the Elk River. An unknown amount of the chemicals traveled about 1.5 miles downriver to a West Virginia American Water Co. treatment plant, eventually tainting the tap water of 300,000 people.

The leak site sits within the zone of critical concern for the West Virginia American Water treatment plant. Since the spill, the DEP has started to look at other facilities that also sit in these zones for public water intakes across West Virginia.

In early February, DEP Secretary Randy Huffman told a U.S. Senate committee the department believed there could be more than 1,000 aboveground storage tanks that could pose a threat to public water if they leaked. 

Further review of sites and DEP permits led to the larger tank number, Aluise said.

"We have inspectors in the process of visiting each of the 100-plus facilities to verify the number of (tanks) at each site, as well as the contents contained in the (tanks)," Aluise said.

Aluise didn't say specifically how the DEP determined a facility fell within a zone of critical concern. Zones are publicly available online, and are included in reports created by the DHHR. 

There are about 75 sites with a general stormwater permit that might fall in a zone of critical concern, according to a list provided by the DEP. A general stormwater permit requires less information than an individual permit, which is a site-specific permit that covers specific wastewater treatment processes.

The Freedom-owned site of the spill, known as Etowah River Terminal, had a general stormwater permit. There are 17 tanks at the site.

About 33 sites with an individual stormwater permit may sit in a zone of critical concern, according to the list provided by the DEP.

While there are fewer sites with such permits, several account for a large portion of the aboveground storage tanks near public water sources.

A New Martinsville-based facility has 425 aboveground tanks, according to the list provided by Aluise. Another New Martinsville site owned by a different company has an additional 127 tanks, according to the list.

The list doesn't make any mention of the specific water intake that might be near each facility, or anything about the safety measures that could be in place at any facility.

Aluise said the DEP looked at documents it has for every facility with a general or individual stormwater permit. They believe there are 600 total facilities that have about 3,900 aboveground storage tanks.

For sites with a general permit the DEP used site maps, diagrams and "other information" to determine how many tanks are at a site. The DEP contacted each of the sites that have an individual permit.

Neither permit application requires the applicant to list aboveground storage tanks, Aluise said.

The Legislature is still discussing legislation that, as of now, would create a new regulatory system for aboveground storage tanks. Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher@dailymailwv.com. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.


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