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OSHA fines Freedom Industries $11,000 for chemical spill

By Dave Boucher, Capitol Bureau Chief
TOM HINDMAN/DAILY MAIL
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined Freedom Industries for violations related to the January chemical leak that tainted the water in nine West Virginia counties for nearly six months.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Federal labor regulators recently fined Freedom Industries $11,000 for “serious” violations of health and safety laws related to the January chemical leak.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited Freedom for not having a “liquid tight” wall surrounding the leaking tank at the Freedom site along the Elk River. OSHA fined Freedom $7,000 for the violation, according to the citation issued July 3.

It also fined Freedom $4,000 for not having “standard railings” on an elevated platform used to cross over the secondary containment wall, according to the citation.

State officials discovered thousands of gallons of MCHM and other chemicals leaking Jan. 9 from a tank at Freedom’s Etowah River Terminal. Some 10,000 gallons seeped under and through visible holes in the concrete wall meant to serve as an emergency barrier in the event of a leak or spill.

An unknown amount entered the Elk River and contaminated the local water treatment facility, sending tainted water to roughly 300,000 people for weeks.

OSHA inspected the Elk River location Jan. 10, the agency’s first visit to the site.

Although investigators had a “close conference” meeting in February, the case is still open, a Department of Labor spokeswoman said late Monday.

OSHA also cited Freedom for an “other-than-serious” violation that was reportedly corrected during the inspection. The citation says Freedom mislabeled the tank next to the tank that leaked, saying the tank was “labeled” as containing Glycerin — a different chemical — instead of MCHM.

Freedom has 15 business days after receiving the citation to comply, appeal the decision or request a meeting with OSHA representatives, a Labor Department spokeswoman said.

The citations follow a recent announcement from OSHA that Freedom’s Nitro location was in compliance with federal laws.

The state Department of Environmental Protection determined the secondary containment wall at Poca Blending — the site where Freedom moved the MCHM and other chemicals after the leak — said there were holes in walls meant to contain a leak. It issued five notices of violations to Freedom for the problems at Poca Blending, classifying the secondary containment at the site as “deteriorated or non-existent.”

Lenore Uddyback-Forston, an OSHA spokeswoman, recently told the Daily Mail, “no issues were found at the facility.”

OSHA and the Department of Labor — which oversees the agency — have declined to provide OSHA’s investigatory file for Poca Blending without the Daily Mail filing a Freedom of Information Act request.

Freedom reported roughly $10 million in assets and $10 million in debts when it filed for bankruptcy in January. The case is ongoing.

A representative for Freedom could not immediately be reached for comment.

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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