Saturday, January 18, 2014

West Virginia Chemical Company files for bankruptcy

The map on the American Water Kanawha Valley website now shows the entire area as blue - i.e. "water is safe*" with the following caveat: 

"*According to the CDC, “At this time, scientists continue to recommend 1 ppm as a protective level to prevent adverse health effects. However, due to limited availability of data, and out of an abundance of caution, you may wish to consider an alternative drinking water source for pregnant women until the chemical is at non-detectable levels in the water distribution system."

However, the website also says "that customers in Buffalo, Frazier's Bottom and Pliny Remain Under a Do Not Drink/Limited Contact Notice."

According to the CBS Evening News residents of Putnam County, W. Va., who had originally been told their water was safe, received an order by the water company Friday morning instructing them to avoid drinking and to limit contact with the water.

So the water situation is returning to normal, but the company responsible has filed for bankruptcy.  NPR has reported that "According to the bankruptcy documents filed this afternoon and passed along to us by NPR's Hansi Lo Wang, Freedom Industries lists both assets and liabilities worth between $1 million and $10 million, with between 200 and 999 estimated creditors. The document was signed by Freedom's president, Gary Southern. 

The Washington Post reports that "It took just one week for Pennsylvania coal mining executive Cliff Forrest, the new owner of Freedom Industries, to discover that one of the six-decade-old storage tanks he had acquired Dec. 31 was leaking a toxic chemical into the Elk River that supplies water to about 300,000 West Virginians.

And it took just one more week for Freedom Industries, facing about 20 lawsuits and a Justice Department investigation, to declare bankruptcy. On Friday, the besieged company filed for protection under Chapter 11 in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Charleston, W. Va."

The article goes into significantly more detail about the ownership and history of the company, 

On NPR on Thursday, Ken Ward, Jr., who covers coal and the environment for the Charleston Gazette, reported that state environmental inspectors told him when they went to the storage facility of Freedom Industries they found a 400 square foot pool of liquid several inches deep. And inside that pool... "The word they used was an up-swelling of some of the chemical. And I said what are you talking about? And they said: Well, kind of like an artesian well. And I said so it's like you had this little fountain of chemical coming up. And they said yes." They also say that liquid from that pool was spilling out of the facility and into the Elk River.

According to Ward, "This facility is kind of a nexus where a bunch of different laws intersect. Federal emergency planning laws for this sort of thing apparently don't apply to this facility because it's not listed by the federal Department of Transportation as a hazardous material. So local emergency planners never looked at it to figure out, you know, what to do about something like this. The state emergency planners never looked at it because of that.

There's also federal laws that require utilities and water regulatory agencies to consider threats to drinking water sources. There's no evidence that anybody ever day that. I mean what you have here was a major regional drinking water plant that was very close to a facility storing significant quantities of toxic materials. And everybody knew it was there but nobody ever did anything about it."

Makes you wonder how many more of these facilities are out there, accidents just waiting to happen. 

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