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MAP TO PROSPERITY: Other questions, other answers

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  • Map to Prosperity

    Map to Prosperity

    Thursday, January 2 2014 11:59 AM EST2014-01-02 16:59:08 GMT
    "Map to Prosperity" is a long-term project of The State Journal that will deeply examine government and business in West Virginia — both the perceptions and the reality.
    "Map to Prosperity" is a long-term project of The State Journal that will deeply examine government and business in West Virginia — both the perceptions and the reality.

In an interview with The State Journal, Randy Huffman, secretary of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, discussed several side issues that are related to the spill of crude MCHM in to the Elk River.

On mine site testing:

Crude MCHM is used at coal mines, where runoff is supposed to be caught in settling ponds. Some analytical work is being done where coal mines have used crude MCHM to see how much has gotten into sources of drinking water. 

"We have not found any in the streams; we have found some in the ponds," Huffman said. "The coal industry is doing some sampling themselves.

"Since it's not a regulated substance, there's not a water quality standard. There's not even a drinking water standard for it."

On the amount of MCHM leaked:

A number of people were surprised Jan. 27 when state officials said they had received revised numbers from Freedom Industries about how much material may have escaped from a storage tank and its surrounding containment area.

State officials had been led to believe about 7,500 gallons had escaped. After Freedom Industries ran some numbers, the amount came to more than 10,000 gallons.

"Numbers have been going up and down for three weeks," Huffman said. 

The exact amount of crude MCHM that leaked from the tank and the amount that entered the Elk will be established during the Chemical Safety Board investigation, he said.

As far as the DEP is concerned, the amount that leaked is not significant at this point, Huffman said.

"How much you say was there three weeks later is irrelevant to what was there the day we were dealing with it," he said.

On the consent decree:

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's office announced Jan. 25 that Freedom Industries had signed a consent decree to remove all chemicals stored at its Elk River site and to begin dismantling the 17 tanks there no later than March 15. A few days later, federal investigators showed up at the site to examine the property.

While state officials were dealing with the spill in its early hours and early days, the question had to be answered about whether Freedom Industries could ever operate a tank farm on its Elk River site again, Huffman said. 

The answer was obvious, except for the legal angle. So, state officials began researching whether they could order Freedom Industries to raze its tanks.

"We decided to just hit them with it," Huffman said. "I think they knew they weren't going to be able to operate there again. Rather than test our authority, we put it in the form of a consent order, and they agreed to it."

Although demolition must begin by March 15, no date has been set yet for demolition work to be complete, Huffman said. Huffman said as far as he knows, the tanks will be sold as scrap.

"I've had no request to have them stored as evidence," he said.

On freedom of information act:

The DEP received a number of Freedom of Information Act requests pertaining to the spill. Some replies were mailed late last week, and others were mailed Jan. 27, Huffman said.

Huffman said he has answered many questions in the past three weeks, but as the recipients receive their FOIA documents, he expects many of the questions to be pushed down through the organization to people who can answer specific questions.