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WV DEP Investigates MCHM Releases During Heavy Storms

Reported by: Send eMail Kennie Bass
Videographer: Matt Durrett
Also Contributing: Bob Aaron
Reported: Jun. 16, 2014 7:21 PM EDT
Updated: Jun. 17, 2014 9:04 AM EDT
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Freedom Industries Problems
Eyewitness News Photo

Charleston , Kanawha County , West Virginia

When thunderstorms rocked the Kanawha Valley on Thursday and Friday, a trench designed to prevent storm water runoff from escaping the Freedom Industries site into the Elk River didn't do its job. Luckily, there were no detectable levels of MCHM downstream at the West Virginia American Water treatment facility. Ironically, the Thursday release happened on the same day the water company announced its $1.1 million carbon filter replacement project was finished.

"Certainly, the storm water overflow that we were notified of on Thursday is completely unacceptable," Laura Jordan, spokesperson for West Virginia American Water said. "And then for it to happen two days back-to-back is just unconscionable for our customers."

Reaction from the two MCHM releases from Freedom Industries last week was pretty much summed up by, are you kidding me? The contractors appear to be unwilling, unable or uninterested to do the job properly. So now we switch our attention to the Department of Environmental Protection, and what exactly can be done to guarantee that not another drop of MCHM get released into the Elk River.

Eyewitness News asked Randy Huffman, West Virginia DEP secretary this: "Can you go in, take over, get somebody in there that knows what they're doing as a professional outfit and will not allow any more MCHM into the Elk River?"

"There is a process," Huffman said. "I know you want the real short soundbite but there's a process to go through. We are evaluating that right now."

Huffman says he has to proceed cautiously and gather all of the information about how the storms were handled before he makes any decisions.

"I cannot have a 10 minute delay in transition from one company to another," Huffman said. "That's why there has to be a process. You know, many folks think, well just go in and fire them today and start over. That's not the way the process works."

With Freedom Industries in bankruptcy, a federal judge asked last week about millions of dollars being paid to lawyers involved in the process. Huffman says its a shame the contractor isn't using the same kind of resources to clean up the site.

"If the contractor or Freedom had as many boots on the ground out there as there were lawyers working on this then nothing bad could happen," Huffman said. "There would just be too many people. And that's really the unfortunate thing about it."

Huffman said it will be a few days before any final decisions about the contractor situation at Freedom Industries are made.



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