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WVa water crisis - who came first?
January 15, 2014 11:36 AM   Subscribe

Which facility was constructed first, the WVa American Water treatment plant, or the Freedom Industries chemical storage place? In other words, did WVAW "come to the nuisance," or did Freedom choose to build upstream from the water plant? what dates was each facility constructed? (and if Freedom came subsequently to WVAW, did the latter protest at the time?)
posted by mmiddle to Law & Government (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Presents Prestigious Directors Award to West Virginia American Water’s Kanawha Valley Water Treatment Plant:
The Kanawha Valley Treatment Plant treats an average of 30 million gallons per day, serving more than 300,000 people in Kanawha, Boone, Putnam, Lincoln and Clay counties. Constructed in 1972 along the Elk River in downtown Charleston, it is the largest water treatment plant in West Virginia.
Freedom Industries About Page: "Founded in 1986..."

Not that it matters, pollution is pollution and endangering behavior should be prosecuted heavily whether it endangers one or millions.
posted by straw at 12:02 PM on January 15 [4 favorites]


It looks like Freedom has owned the terminal since 2001, but the terminal was present at the location long before that. It looks like the terminal is visible in a 1990 aerial from Google Earth and a 1980 aerial from NETR online, and the tanks are noted as far back as 1959 in historical topographic maps from NETR Online. (Can't link directly to the map, sorry, but if you search for the location you can see them.)

If 1959 doesn't pre-date the water intake, it definitely pre-dates any popular concern about water pollution or chemical storage safety. It also pre-dates the Clean Water Act (1972).

This article has a pretty good summary of the state of emergency planning and reporting as regards this situation. This article has a good summary of the timeline on the reporting of the spill.
posted by pie ninja at 12:16 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]


The Huffington Post article pie ninja links to above says the terminal "was owned by a different company operating under more stringent rules"; this WSJ article specifies that the previous owner was Pennzoil, which used it as a gasoline and diesel terminal.
posted by scody at 12:52 PM on January 15


Thanks! That story from the Charleston Gazette is very helpful. I guess if the 1959 visuals are tanks, it was likely used for chemical storage even before Freedom acquired it - so still seems odd that American Water would have chosen that location. Also hard to guess why the EPA did not have this frothing chemical MCHM on its list. And crazy but, unfortunately, less mysterious why the state and county officials never took responsibility.
posted by mmiddle at 12:54 PM on January 15


So the state at least regulated the oil industry more stringently than the coal industry. Good piece in the WSJ, too: the reaction of Freedom executives syncs with their sketchy corporate history (including Koch connection).
posted by mmiddle at 1:34 PM on January 15


I guess if the 1959 visuals are tanks, it was likely used for chemical storage even before Freedom acquired it - so still seems odd that American Water would have chosen that location.

Not really, sadly. First, it sounds like they chose it in 1972, at which time surface water contamination wasn't as big a deal. Second, there are a limited number of good siting locations for things like water treatment plants. This may have been the best intake location they had available. (In West Virginia it would be hard to find an intake that wasn't downstream of a chemical plant, coal mine, or other environmentally sensitive industry.)

Also, the Freedom Industries plant is pretty small by industry standards. (I thought the same thing after the West, Texas explosion -- that plant is TINY compared to many plants in that industry. Incredibly dangerous, but tiny.) Larger plants get the lion's share of the enforcement efforts.

Also hard to guess why the EPA did not have this frothing chemical MCHM on its list. And crazy but, unfortunately, less mysterious why the state and county officials never took responsibility.

There are a crazy number of industrial chemicals in this country. EPA's List of Lists (actual name) is 122 pages.

It sounds like MCHM actually is regulated by EPA under Tier II, because the plant was apparently reporting it on Tier II forms every year. (The CAS number doesn't pop up for me, but I'm assuming it falls into one of the more general categories, maybe someone else has better info on this?) It just wasn't on the Extremely Hazardous Material list, which would have bumped it into requiring special reporting/emergency plans/etc. That could be because there aren't many studies on MCHM (or any -- there are a TON of chemicals, again, and the less commonly used ones don't get studied as often) or it could be because it's legitimately not that dangerous when compared to the chemicals that did made the Extremely Hazardous list (which are really, really bad).

There are a ton of things I absolutely do not want in my water that aren't on the Extremely Hazardous Material list, including TCE, benzene, and elemental mercury.

None of this is to excuse anyone or any of what happened -- just to explain the regulatory background involved.

Based on my experience, I think the thing that could have made the biggest difference in preventing this (and similar releases) would actually have been required tank inspections by the state (or even the local fire department). Tank inspections would have brought to light any tank defects or smaller discharges into the secondary containment, and more importantly, would hopefully have required that the company do their own regular walk-throughs to look for releases. This release should have been reported to the state and an environmental clean-up contractor a whoooooole lot earlier than it was.
posted by pie ninja at 1:46 PM on January 15 [3 favorites]


The Diane Rehm Show featured this yesterday. It was mentioned that the plant predates the water intake by quite a bit. There's a full transcript available if you go to http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2014-01-14.

The guests on the show were: Mary Anne Hitt of the Sierra Club, Joel Achenbach of The Washington Post, and Daniel Simmons of the Institute for Energy Research and Daniel Horowitz, managing director of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.

This was also mentioned:

ACHENBACH (Joel Achenbach of the Washington Post)
10:47:37
Just a quick point of fact that according to Mike Dorsey, who's with the West Virginia State Department of Environmental Protection, he was told by the president of Freedom Industries the company had set aside a million dollars in escrow to upgrade the containment facility. So the company knew that this was a subpar containment facility, and they were going to do it. And they just hadn't gotten around to it yet.
posted by nnk at 5:39 PM on January 15


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