The leaking chemical tanks owned by Freedom Industries in Charleston, WV left 300,000 people, schools, public facilities and businesses without water for well over a week. The chemical, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM) is used to clean coal by the coal industry. An estimated 7,500 gallons leaked flowed into the Elk River from a hole in a storage tank and holes in containment barriers.
Some residents of the 9-county DON’T USE THE WATER ban have been given to go ahead that the water is now safe. It is being reported that even after authorities have deemed the water safe, hospitals are seeing dozens of people seeking medical aid for nausea and vomiting in the “safe to drink” zones.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging pregnant women who live in the areas of West Virginia where a toxic chemical leaked into the water supply last week to drink bottled water, even in places where the no-use ban has been lifted. The move comes “out of an abundance of caution,” the CDC and the state’s Bureau of Public Health say. The abundance of caution did not include women who are breast feeding, infants and children.
Dr. Raheel Khan, of the West Virginia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, asked the Charleston Board of Health to extend the “don’t drink the water” order to include children under the age of three.
The federal agency said Wednesday (1/15/14) that pregnant women should stick to bottled water “until there are no longer detectable levels of MCHM in the water distribution system,” referring to the coal-treatment chemical that sparked a ban on use of tap water for some 300,000 people in nine counties around Charleston, W.Va.
Residents were told they would need to drain and flush all pipes and any appliances such as ice makers. It was estimated this would take approx. 3 hours per home. Scattered reports are saying even after 3 hours the water is still running bad.
DOWNSTREAM and DOWNWIND
Officials in Ohio and Kentucky are monitoring the chemical plume as it passes by their cities and towns. The Ohio River Valley Sanitation Commission has been on high alert and is coordinating with state agencies and the US Coast Guard.
Water sanitation officials had found the leading edge of the plume near Portsmouth, Ohio, by 11:30 a.m. Monday. “They could smell it in the air,” said Jerry Schulte, manager of source water protection and emergency response for the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission.
If “they could smell it in the air”, they are breathing the air.
“As far as the data and recommendations we have from West Virginia American Water, the water is safe to use, Rahul Gupta, health officer for the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, said. But he went on, “We’re not saying it’s safe. West Virginia American Water is saying it’s safe. We are taking their word for it.”
How safe is it? Health and Water authorities really don’t know.
Material-safety sheets from several manufacturers list little in the way of health information. Toxicological databases provide few answers.
“No specific information is available in our database regarding the toxic effects of this material for humans,” one chemical fact sheet explains. “However, exposure to any chemical should be kept to a minimum. Skin and eye contact may result in irritation. May be harmful if inhaled or ingested.”
- Carcinogenic effects? No information available.
- Mutagenic effects? No information available.
- Developmental toxicity? No information available.
IT WAS COLD
Freedom Industries point to the cold weather for the cause of the spill. According to Freedom Industries, a broken water pipe is to blame. The pipe froze, then expanded and punctured the tank from below. Even though the tanks were surrounded by a concrete wall, they were sitting on gravel. The chemical seeped through the gravel, into the ground and under the wall.
The concrete wall, intended to contain chemicals and prevent them from entering the Elk River has been described as shoddy and in need of repair by state officials.
Freedom Industries also attributed blame to what is called a very old terra cotta culvert that runs beneath Freedom’s property and helped provide an avenue for the water to collect beneath the tank.
Freedom Industries stopped short of calling it an Act of God, but the implications are there. By pointing at the cold weather as the cause, Freedom Industries are diverting attention from their broken water pipe, their 60-year old tank’s condition, and their containment wall in disrepair.
WHO OWNS FREEDOM INDUSTRIES?
Freedom Industries was purchased by Pennsylvania coal mining executive Cliff Forrest about two weeks before the spill occurred. He paid about $20 million for the company. Freedom Industries is now owned by Chemstream Holdings Inc. Chemstream Holdings shares a Kittanning mailing address with Forrest’s Rosebud Mining Co.
Freedom Industries acquired the storage tank facility Dec. 31 through a merger with Etowah River Terminal LLC, a liquid bulk storage and distribution company, according to documents filed with the West Virginia secretary of state and the Kanawha County clerk. Forrest signed off on the documents as the manager of Etowah River Terminal.
Forrest also managed Poca Blending, a chemical processor and the sister company to Etowah River Terminal acquired in the merger. Delaware-based Crete Technologies was part of the merger.
The spill is being probed by federal investigators.
The independent federal agency, US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) intends to investigate with the goal of finding out what happened to allow a leak of such magnitude to occur. The CSB investigative staff includes chemical and mechanical engineers, industrial safety experts, and other specialists with experience in the private and public sectors. Many investigators have years of chemical industry experience.
West Virginia’s Attorney General, Patrick Morrisey vowed a full investigation, and stated there was a lot of speculation surround the spill.
Next month, the US Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will be preparing hearing on chemical safety with the focus on how regulators can improve safeguards without new legislation. Chair of the committee is Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) she told reporters that the common theme is that regulators have tools at their disposal under multiple statutes such as the Safe Drinking Water Act, even as lawmakers continue with years-long efforts to toughen the Toxic Substances Control Act that haven’t come to fruition.
It appears Boxer and Boehner are unaware that the tanks at Freedom Industries, and at similar facilities, are exempt from many of those regulations. According to WV Department of Environmental Protection officials, Freedom Industries is exempt from DEP inspections and permitting since it stores chemicals, and doesn’t produce them.
Erin Brockovich, environmental activist and consumer advocate, is in West Virginia and has met with residents impacted by the spill. Those attending a meeting with Brockovich in Charleston were frustrated with the lack of answers and information coming from local, state and federal authorities. Brokovich stated “This is your community and your rights and your water. And you have every right to be very vocal about the situation.”
Brockovich has set up a page on her website specifically for the West Virginia spill. People may sign up to receive updates.
On Saturday, Jan 18, 2014 at 7:30pm EST, Brockovich and her Chief Environmental Investigator Bob Bowcock will be available on Facebook to answer questions relating to the current crisis in West Virginia.
On Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, Freedom Industries filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. Under Chapter 11 it permits a company to reorganize and to continue operating.
Chapter 11 bankruptcy can also be called rehabilitation bankruptcy. It allows the firm the opportunity to reorganize its debt and to try to re-emerge as a healthy organization. What this means is that the firm will contact its creditors in an attempt to change the terms on loans such as the interest rate and dollar value of payments. Like its cousin, chapter 11 requires that a trustee be appointed; however, rather than selling off all assets to pay back creditors, the trustee supervises the assets of the debtor and allows business to continue. It’s important to note that debt is not absolved in chapter 11: the restructuring only changes the terms of the debt, and the firm must continue to pay it back through future earnings.
If a company is successful in chapter 11, it will typically be expected to continue operating in an efficient manner with its newly structured debt. If it is not successful, then it will file for chapter 7 and liquidate. In both instances, common shareholders will most likely see little (if any) return on their investments.
On the average, it could take between 4 to 5 years for a company to reemerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy. This is assuming reorganization under the terms of Chapter 11 is successful. If Chapter 11 is not successful then a Chapter 7 bankruptcy is filed and the company is liquidated.
MUST WATCH MSNBC All In with Chris Hayes explains the shell game behind who owns Freedom Industries, who is providing funding the Chapter 11 Bankruptcy and how it all connects.
Officials have declined to estimate the cost of the spill with regards to clean up, supplying water, and monitoring chemical levels in the water. There are no estimates to economic losses experienced by business in the nine effected counties that had to shut down during the “DON’T DRINK THE WATER” period. No one is even guessing the long term costs and effects.
What we do know is this is yet another case where YOU the taxpayer are footing the cost and not the corporation which caused the disaster. Tax money paid for the water that is being supplied to the residents of nine counties in West Virginia. Tax money paid for the National Guard to set up distribution areas for the water. Tax money paid for local, state and federal agencies called to the site and supervise the clean up. Tax money will be paid for all the government investigations.
On the same day the spill occurred, the US House of Representatives passed the Reducing Excessive Deadline Obligations Act that would ultimately eliminate requirements for the Environmental Protection Agency to review and update hazardous-waste disposal regulations in a timely manner, and make it more difficult for the government to compel companies that deal with toxic substances to carry proper insurance for cleanups, pushing the cost on to taxpayers.
Critics point out that the bill severely weakens environmental protections. Earthjustice and 128 public interest groups said the legislation would “threaten human health and the environment while protecting polluters from liability for the costs of toxic cleanups.”
The legislation also “substantially increases the potential for harm in communities across the United States. As one in four Americans live within three miles of a hazardous-waste site, safe management and prompt cleanup of toxic waste sites are essential to our nation’s health and economy,” the group added.
In addition to taxpayers footing the bill for this and other industry disasters, we are all paying for it with our lives.
We are all downstream and down wind.
- FLUSH ONLY IN NINE WEST VIRGINIA COUNTIES
- WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT WV WATER CONTAMINATION
- BOEHNER WINS BONEHEAD AWARD
©2014 by Dory Hippauf