West Virginia Chemical Spill Site Wasn't Inspected in Over a Decade

Source: Joe Raedle/Getty Images News/Getty Images
As over hundreds of thousands of people in West Virginia get ready for their fifth day without running water, a new report from the Wall Street Journal is claiming that the storage site, which caused the chemical spill into the Elk river, hadn't been seen by environmental inspectors since 1991. Not only that, but it appears the chemical workers at the site hadn't sorted out a groundwater protection plan and weren't even the ones to call in the incident.

According to the WSJ report, the storage facility owned by Freedom Industries Inc., has undergone almost no state-level, or even local-level, monitoring over the last decade. The last time an environmental inspector saw the site? 1991. Three years before Friends came into existence. Part of that is because the state just doesn't inspect most above ground storage units, focusing instead on facilities that manufacture or process chemicals. And it turns out the chemical that leaked into the river, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, isn't in fact closely tracked by federal programs.

"We definitely had not thought of water contamination on this scale," said the chairman of a county-level group in charge of developing local emergency-response plans. "I don't want to overregulate private industry, but this does show that there are some chemicals that fall under the radar."

Roughly 7,500 gallons of the 4-methylcyclohexane methanol spilled through a one-inch hole in a tank at the facility owned by Freedom Industries Thursday, gushing into the river and contaminating the water for over 300,000 local residents. Since then, people living in the area have been forced to use their tap-water for flushing and fires only, relying solely on bottle water for everything from showering to washing dishes.  As of 8 a.m. ET Monday, though, officials will begin announcing certain zones where tap water will be safe to use again, finally.

State officials started investigating the spill after people said they smelled an odor — similar to licorice — coming from close to the company's river terminal. According to the Department of Environmental Protection Secretary, state environmental workers were on site by 11:15, as were Freedom Industries officials. But Freedom Industries weren't the ones to call in the officials, it was the water company. In fact, Freedom Industries didn't officially report the spill until almost an hour later — even though by state law, they obviously have to report a chemical spill immediately. Adding insult to injury? The state actually requires that companies like Freedom Industries, that have above-water storage tanks, prepare and implement a groundwater protection plan — but, er, Freedom Industries hadn't gotten round yet to handing one in.

West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, a Democrat, has admitted that it could be time to rethink the state's reporting requirements, among other things. "We need to look at them to make sure that this kind of incident does not happen again," Tomblin said. Ya think?

Image: Getty Images 

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