Official: More stormwater tests 'not a bad idea'
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Scrap metal facilities need to test their stormwater for oil, grease and several other substances found on site under the state's general stormwater protection program.
The same program requires salt storage facilities to test groundwater for chloride, a key component in salt.
It does not require facilities that store chemicals -- like Freedom Industries, the company at the heart of the Elk River chemical leak -- to test stormwater for any of the materials housed on site.
"That's not a bad idea," state Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Randy Huffman said when asked about whether the requirement should be changed.
"However, most of the chemicals stored in these tanks would not be subject to a water quality standard."
At least 10,000 gallons of crude MCHM and PPH are believed to have leaked from a hole in a storage tank owned by Freedom. Within hours of the discovery of the leak Jan. 9, the chemical had overwhelmed the local West Virginia American Water Co. treatment plant and left 300,000 people without safe tap water.
Although the water company regularly tests its water for about 60 different chemicals, the list did not include crude MCHM or PPH. Since the spill, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has asked West Virginia American Water to start checking for both.
Freedom operated its Elk River location, also known as Etowah River Terminal, under a general water pollution permit. That permit requires the company to test its stormwater every six months and submit the results to the DEP.
They were required to test for "total suspended solids," "chemical oxygen demand," and oil and grease , according to the permit.
More than a million gallons of chemicals sat in 17 tanks on the site the day the spill was discovered.
"There's nothing in those tanks that should ever be in the stormwater," said Scott Mandirola, director of the division of water and waste management within the DEP.
There are about two dozen sectors included in the permit, each pertaining to different types of facilities.
Freedom's Etowah site was covered under a sector that makes no specific mention of chemical storage.
Instead, it's reserved for facilities like motor freight transportation, petroleum bulk oil stations and terminals, and United States Postal Service transportation facilities.
A 2009 email from Mandirola to John Hutchinson, listed as the manager for Etowah, says the site falls under this particular sector. The email was obtained under West Virginia open records laws.
"Bulk storage of chemicals that are being transported by motor freight fall into this category," Mandirola said Sunday, in a comment emailed by a spokesman.
A document from January 2002 shows the DEP transferred the permit for the site to Etowah from Pennzoil-Quaker State Co. Pennzoil owned the facility for years before Etowah, storing gasoline, petroleum and similar items on site.
Pointing to more language included in the description for the sector, he said the sector also applies to transportation facilities that have maintenance shops.
"This sector was determined to be the best fit for this type of facility," Mandirola said Sunday in the email.
Stormwater samples collected at the site are required to go to a laboratory that is certified by the state, Mandirola said.
The state uses similar language from federal Environmental Protection Agency standards to create the permit, Mandirola said.
However, it has changed the federal permit to include or delete sectors, he said. Some sectors didn't cover any facilities in the state, he said.
The state added the sector for salt storage after getting complaints about large outdoor storage facilities. Rain or other events led to more salt in the stormwater and local waterways, he said.
Mandirola said he didn't want to speculate as to whether chemical companies should have to test for materials stored on site in their stormwater. Pointing to the case with salt, he said the state could create a different sector for other materials.
"If it didn't fall under one of the sectors, that's definitely a potential," he said.
The site of the spill required only a stormwater permit because it didn't discharge large amounts of anything into the air or water, Mandirola said.
Although documents filed by the company with the DEP show chemicals were processed on site leading to some air emissions, the DEP didn't deem either the processing itself or the amount of emissions worthy of an additional permit.
In 2010, Etowah told the DEP it was mixing chemicals at its site, and this mixing led to some emissions, according to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Etowah sent the information to the DEP to see if an air permit was needed. The mixing and chemicals on site, including the crude MCHM, led to about 1,000 pounds per year of Volatile Organic Compound emissions, according to the letter from the company.
The VOC emissions were below standards that would trigger additional permitting, according to the DEP's response letter.
Since 2003, the company paid a yearly fee to be a "conditionally exempt small quantity generator" of hazardous waste. That means the site generated less than 220 pounds, or 25 gallons, of hazardous waste each month, according to the state Hazardous Waste Management Program.
The fee was $24 a year before 2008, and it changed to $100 a year in 2009, Mandirola said. Freedom paid from 2003 to 2013 for the Etowah site, he said.
There's a machine shop at the site where solvents are used, likely to clean vehicle parts, Mandirola said.
"It's got nothing to do with the tanks," he said, referring to the exemption.
Freedom did file reports with the state for the Etowah site for the last six years that show what chemicals they housed on site. Any facility with more than 10,000 pounds of chemicals needs to file the forms, called "Tier II reports."
The company also was required to create a groundwater protection plan. Since the spill, Freedom had yet to give any such plan to the DEP, Mandirola said.
Tomblin and leaders in the state Senate each proposed legislation in the wake of the spill. Huffman said changes outlined in the Senate bill are the best way to prevent future leaks.
"The most important measure that can be taken to minimize the risk of leaks is the annual certification of tanks, required by a professional engineer, that is outlined in the proposed legislation," Huffman said Sunday.
The House Health and Human Resources Committee is set to discuss the measure this afternoon.
West Virginia's federal lawmakers introduced bills as well. A U.S. House committee is scheduled to discuss the spill and the government's response at 9 a.m. in a hearing at the Kanawha County Courthouse.