Freedom Industries hosted a public meeting Tuesday night in a small room in the Charleston Civic Center to provide updates on the remediation of the site of the spill. Last January a coal-scrubbing chemical leaked from a 40,000 gallon storage tank next to the Elk River contaminated the drinking water of 300,000 West Virginians.
Freedom pleaded guilty to three federal pollution charges this week and some of its former employees have recently done the same. Former Freedom president Gary Southern and ex-part-owner and past president Dennis Farrell await trial for their own set of charges. Amidst it all, the company continues to roll through bankruptcy proceedings. But, Freedom’s deadline to enter into a Voluntary Remediation Agreement with the state Department of Environmental Protection looms as cleanup of the site continues.
The Cleanup By The Numbers, And Where Materials Have Gone
Freedom Chief Restructuring Officer Mark Welch said at least $11 million dollars has gone to remediate the site, with million gallons of water and about 600 tons of dirt removed to date.
- Scrap metal from last summer’s tank demolition was shipped to Arkron.
- Soil was trucked to northern Ohio.
- Welch said about 2.2 million gallons of water was split between Ohio and North Carolina, while 300,000 gallons made its way to the Charleston Sanitary Board.
Deadline Looms for Voluntary Remediation Agreement
Freedom has a March 30 deadline to enter into a Voluntary Remediation Agreement with the DEP.
The agreement, and the continued cleanup of the site, is part of Freedom’s involvement in the DEP’s Voluntary Remediation Program. Arcadis, an environmental contracting firm, is acting as the licensed remediation specialist on behalf of Freedom. Ira Buchanan is Arcadis’ project manager.
“We have made application to the program. It has been submitted to the DEP and it has been accepted with comments. There’s about four things that we need to respond to just to tighten up the application," said Buchanan.
"The next step is the agreement, where Freedom and the DEP will sign the agreement, which lays out a schedule for assessment, remediation and, ultimately, closure of the site and that’s currently under negotiation.”
What's Next for the Site, More Industry?
Patty Hickman, interim director of DEP’s Division of Land Restoration, outlined the steps Freedom and Arcadis will go through, including, work plans, remediation standards, and risk assessments. She also explained the potential use for the site once the company has submitted a final report and been given a certificate of completion for the remediation program.
“Some of these sites may only ever want to have an intended use for commercial or industrial development. There are some sites that do go to residential use but, if you have an old chemical factory or glass factory, a lot of times it’s in an area and has that infrastructure that’s suitable for additional development for some other kind of industry today," said Hickman.
"[The Voluntary Remediation Program] provides a mechanism for us to restrict the land use or to put engineer controls into place to protect people and prevent exposure to chemicals that may be present,” she added.
According to DEP officials, the Freedom Industries site already went through the Voluntary Remediation Program while under the ownership of Pennzoil-Quaker State.
Concerns Linger for Some Residents
For some, there’s a big concern—whether exposure to MCHM still exists, or could continue to exist once Freedom completes the Voluntary Remediation Program--and, if it does, whether or not it’s harmful to residents of the area.
While most who attended the meeting were members of the media, attorneys for Freedom and Arcadis, or DEP officials, a handful of concerned citizens showed up as well.
One of them was Phil Price, a semi-retired Charleston resident who said he had a 40-year career working with chemical companies and has experience in environmental analysis and remediation. Price said his main problem is a lack of data to back up past and future remediation action.
“The question is: How many tons of MCHM is the DEP willing to abandon on that site? And, given that they have stated that they want zero risk to the water drinkers of Charleston and our water supply, the question becomes how much MCHM abandoned on that site is going to be significant," said Price.
"At this stage, without a lot of analytical data on the water runoff presently and what they’re finding in the soil excavations, it’s hard to make a judgement.”
Completing the Remediation Program
Freedom’s successful completion of the program depends, in part, on its ability to finance the remediation. With bankruptcy proceedings ongoing, Welch said the company currently has about $450,000 in available cash.
He told the Charleston Gazette there are "other funds available," to see the company through bankruptcy, including the potential sale of the site.
DEP also said Freedom’s acceptance is the first time a company has entered the Voluntary Remediation Program while in bankruptcy.