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More inspections taking place at Freedom chemical leak site

By Dave Boucher, Capitol Bureau Chief

One of the federal agencies investigating the Freedom Industries chemical leak started collecting more evidence from the Elk River site Thursday.

The Chemical Safety Board’s collection of evidence included cutting large chunks from several tanks at the site.

“(Thursday), workers are cutting doors into the tank so that it is no longer a confined space,” said Kelley Gillenwater, state Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman.

“After that, the CSB will move forward with its field testing.”

The CSB came to West Virginia a few days after state officials discovered thousands of gallons of MCHM and other chemicals leaking from Tank 396 into the Elk River. The agency announced it would investigate the incident after the leaked chemical had overwhelmed the nearby water treatment facility and contaminated tap water for more than 15 percent of the state’s population.

The CSB’s inquiry into the chemical leak is its third investigation of a chemical related disaster in the Kanawha Valley since 2008. It issued reports calling for reforms focused on better public awareness following the 2008 fatal explosion at the Bayer CropScience facility in Institute and another fatal incident at the DuPont facility in Belle in 2010.

“The CSB’s previous recommendations aimed at empowering a government agency to determine just what posed a high hazard,” CSB Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso told a congressional committee in a February special hearing about the leak.

“Perhaps qualified inspectors would have considered aging chemical storage tanks, located just upstream from a public drinking water treatment plant, to be potentially “highly hazardous” and worthy of a closer look.”

At the same congressional hearing the CSB showed a picture taken from within the tank of two holes in the tank walls through which they believe the chemicals leaked.

The CSB plans to be at the leak site collecting evidence until May 9, Gillenwater said. A CSB spokeswoman did not respond to a Daily Mail request for comment.

The CSB has previously said it doesn’t anticipate releasing its final report about the leak until late this year or early 2015.

Freedom declared bankruptcy about one week after the discovery of the leak. Dozens of lawsuits are currently pending against Freedom, related to the federal bankruptcy proceedings and other claims for compensation.

Attorneys representing the people suing Freedom have also requested access to the site in order collect evidence, Gillenwater said. They’ll be allowed on site once the CSB is finished, she said.

In late January the FBI also visited the site, in accordance with an investigation by the office of U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin. Thursday Goodwin said his office has not completed collection of evidence from the site either.

The site included 16 tanks in addition to the one that leaked. Some of the fiberglass tanks have already been dismantled, but full tank decommissioning is slated to start May 12, Gillenwater said.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin ordered in February the site be completely dismantled.

There is still about 1 million gallons of wastewater — water containing the leaked chemical that was scooped up at the site after the leak — still being stored on site, Gillenwater said. Freedom is in the process of shipping that chemical wastewater and other waste from its Poca Blending site in Nitro to several facilities in Ohio.

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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