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Freedom to staff site of spill around clock

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CHARLESTON, WV (AP) -

The company that spilled chemicals into West Virginia's largest water supply in January will staff the site around the clock to prevent further discharges during cleanup.

After spilling stormwater into the Elk River twice last week, Freedom Industries told the state Department of Environmental Protection it would keep contractors at its Charleston site 24 hours a day. The company also plans to double its capacity to pump stormwater from the trench that spilled.

Regulators said the June 12 spill sent a small amount of water into the river. A 50-minute overflow occurred June 13 during a thunderstorm.

Initial violations include allowing a discharge from an unpermitted outlet and not implementing an approved sump management plan, per state orders.

"We clearly understand the importance of these issues and we are taking actions to address them," Freedom Chief Restructuring Officer Mark Welch wrote in a letter to state regulators Saturday.

The trench's job is to catch the chemical so it doesn't reach the river. In both spills, West Virginia American Water said it detected no traces of the chemical in treated and untreated water at its treatment plant.

Water company spokeswoman Laura Jordan told The Charleston Gazette in an email later June 14 that the company shut down its pumps that draw water into the treatment plant for three hours June 13 as a precaution. The company's 1,900-mile distribution system was unaffected.

State department spokeswoman Kelley Gillenwater said Freedom's corrective plans, which the state required Freedom to produce by June 14, seem to address immediate concerns. But the department will evaluate in the next few days if other steps need to be taken.

Department Secretary Randy Huffman said June 14 that regulators would bring in a more responsible contractor if the problem wasn't immediately addressed.

In news releases June 14, Huffman and West Virginia American Water President Jeff McIntyre both called the weekend spills unacceptable.

The January chemical spill forced officials to order 300,000 people in nine counties to refrain from using their tap water for most uses for up to 10 days until the chemical was flushed out of the system.

The water company has since replaced each of its 16 filters.

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