By MARK DRAJEM
The West Virginia storage facility that leaked a chemical
tainting the water supply of 300,000 Charleston-area
customers shouldnt have been built upstream from a
treatment plant, a federal investigator said.
At a congressional hearing into the spill at a Freedom
Industries site that leaked last month, the US Chemical
Safety Board said regulators should limit where such storage
are built or operate.
Preliminary research suggested a gap in regulations for
above-ground storage tanks, according to the board.
The facility was simply a truck terminal and its
position alongside the Elk River just upstream of the water
intake was a historical anomaly that had tragic
consequences, Rafael Moure- Eraso, chairman of the
independent safety board, said Monday at the House
Transportation and Infrastructure hearing. The facility
just did not need to be where it was.
The leak of 4-methylcyclohexane
methanol, or MCHM, caused West Virginia American Water Co. on
Jan. 9 to issue a do not use order for the tap
water it supplies to 300,000 people. The order, largest ever
by the company, and the lingering signs of contamination a
month later sparked calls for stronger state and federal
rules, as well as complaints about the response of the
government and the companies.
The board today released a photo of the tank, which leaked a
month ago, showing the corroded wall.
While that order was lifted after a week, residents
complained Monday that they can smell the licorice odor
associated with the chemical in their homes, and worry about
long-term health effects from drinking or cooking with it.
The utility said the water has MCHM at levels deemed safe by
the US Centers for Disease Control.
Were dealing with this fear of the water, because
it has this odor to it, Jeff McIntyre, president of
West Virginia American Water, said at the hearing in
Charleston. Just because you smell something
doesnt mean its not safe.
McIntyre defended a decision by the utility not to close off
its water intake and shut the water system altogether, saying
it could have taken a month to restart.
The Freedom Industries complex in Charleston was subject to a
patchwork of federal and state regulations that allowed
hazardous materials to be stored less than 2 miles upstream
from a treatment facility for drinking water. While the CDC
set a standard of one part per million of the chemical as
safe for use, it can still present an odor at much lower
A representative of Freedom Industries was invited to testify
today and did not appear at the hearing.