Freedom Industries failed for a second straight day to prevent a stormwater collection trench overflow at the MCHM spill site along the Elk River, forcing the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) again to intervene.
“To have this happen twice in two days is outrageous and unacceptable,” said DEP Secretary Randy Huffman. “Freedom and its environmental consultant should have a system in place to handle heavy rainfall. If a better system is not implemented immediately, the DEP will take action to bring in a more responsible contractor to handle it.” The DEP has received Freedom’s plan for preventing future overflow events at the spill site and is carefully reviewing the measures outlined in that plan.
Friday’s overflow coincided with a heavy downpour of rain at around 5 p.m. The discharge lasted for approximately 50 minutes before being brought under control through increased pumping.
The incident follows a similar overflow of stormwater discovered yesterday (Thursday, June 12). In that instance, the DEP determined a pump float level, meant to trip the device on, was not properly set. Two notices of violation were issued following that event: for allowing a discharge from an unpermitted outlet, and for failure to comply with the terms and conditions of an order to implement an approved sump management plan. NOVs are being issued for today’s discharge as well –includes a mandate that Freedom respond by noon Saturday with an outline of how the system will be redesigned to prevent future overflows.
The DEP inspector who discovered the latest discharge has relayed that the sump pump was operating, unlike yesterday’s incident, but apparently could not keep up with the heavy flow of rainwater. A backup pump was activated to increase pumping capacity.
West Virginia American Water, which has a drinking water intake a mile and a half downstream, has been notified and will be collecting samples of raw water coming into the plant intake as well as treated water. Testing of raw and treated water samples after Thursday’s discharge came back at non-detectable levels.
A 10,000-gallon crude MCHM leak at the site on January 9 contaminated the drinking water of approximately 300,000 people. Construction of the trench was commenced that day so that rainwater and groundwater running across polluted soil at the site would not seep into the river.