MCHM Leak Inquiry Will Take About a Year
Chemical Safety Board here for the 3rd time in 6 years
24 January 2014
By David Gutman
CHARLESTON, W.Va. --The federal Chemical Safety Board has not
discovered any holes in Freedom Industries' secondary containment
wall, but the agency's investigation probably will last a year,
and it's too early to know if the wall failed, CSB officials said
A CSB investigative team has been at Freedom Industries, the site
of the chemical leak that contaminated the region's drinking
water, since Jan. 13, but investigations of this type generally
take about a year, CSB lead investigator Johnnie Banks told a
special joint legislative committee on water resources.
Banks said that the secondary containment wall, which surrounds
the leaky tank, had no defects "that we can observe with the naked
He said that if investigators discover anything that requires an
immediate recommendation, they will issue one.
"There's a sense of urgency in our mission, as well," he said. "We
realize that the citizens of this area want to know what
Several of the seven lawmakers at the committee hearing were
looking for recommendations they could act on within the ongoing
60-day legislative session.
After the hearing, Rafael Moure-Eraso, the chairman of the CSB,
said that seems unlikely.
"We are interviewing people, we are collecting evidence, our tank
expert has come to see the place and basically say, 'This is what
I'm going to need.' We are getting started," Moure-Eraso said. "We
will be able to talk more in six months, perhaps."
This is the third time in recent years that the CSB has been in
the Kanawha Valley to investigate an incident.
Investigators were here in 2008 after an explosion at the Bayer
CropScience plant in Institute killed two workers and they were
here in 2010 to investigate a series of leaks at the DuPont plant
in Belle that killed one worker.
The final Bayer report was not issued until Jan. 2011, two and a
half years after the explosion. The final DuPont report was issued
in July 2007, a year and a half after the leaks.
In both those reports, the CSB recommended that West Virginia
establish a program to prevent hazardous chemical releases. State
officials did not heed either recommendation.
Moure-Eraso said that that is the nature of his agency.
"We contact them and say, 'This is what we recommend' and we write
letters to them and say, 'What are your actions about this,'"
Moure-Eraso said. "The power that we have is to say 'It's
acceptable' or 'It's unacceptable.'
"We go to people like your newspaper and say, 'Look, we make these
recommendations, which are public recommendations, and they have
to be acted on.'"
Delegate Mike Manypenny asked if the CSB's three visits to the
region in five years meant that there was a "systemic problem"
with chemical maintenance in the Kanawha Valley, and in West
Virginia as a whole.
"That is a fair statement," Banks said, although he added that
West Virginia is not alone in having problems with chemical
"We look at how things drift to a state of being, over time, and
then there's a catastrophic failure, and the question is, how
could that happen?" Banks said. "It evolves over time."
Moure-Eraso also said it was the chemical manufacturer's
obligation to provide information on the chemicals that leaked
into the Elk River and that the information that has been provided
has been scant and inadequate.
The two leaked chemical compounds -- Crude MCHM and PPH, stripped
-- are made by Eastman and Dow chemicals, respectively.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said
the area's water is safe for everyone except pregnant women, with
less than 1 part per million of Crude MCHM.
Moure-Eraso did not counter that standard, but he did say of Crude
MCHM and PPH, stripped, "They shouldn't be in drinking water.
Period. At any level."
Reach David Gutman at david.gut...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.