Demolition of the steel tanks at the Freedom Industries tank farm, the source of the Jan. 9 crude MCHM spill that contaminated the drinking water supply for approximately 300,000 West Virginians, is expected to begin before month’s end.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin had ordered two weeks after the spill that the tanks be dismantled. Because Freedom has filed for bankruptcy, all of the company’s financial transactions have to be approved by a bankruptcy judge. That approval was granted on Friday. The attorneys and financial advisors for Freedom had hoped the tank dismantling could begin this week, but are now anticipating it will take a couple of weeks to obtain all the necessary permit requirements. Contractor Independence Excavating is also working to finalize plans such as where the scrap material will be sent.
Once started, the work, which will be monitored by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to ensure all protocols are followed, is expected to last two to four weeks. It will involve all 13 of the remaining tanks at the Etowah River Terminal site except for three being used to store stormwater runoff – water from rain or shallow ground pools that comes into contact with potentially contaminated soil. Six fiberglass tanks have already been torn down.
The tank dismantling could potentially stir up the black licorice odor associated with MCHM. Workers at the site will take any necessary precautions to protect their health. Also, safeguards remain in place to keep any contaminated soil or runoff from entering the Elk River. These safeguards include a lined trenching system to keep any materials from escaping the containment area.
Once the tanks have been dismantled, analysis will be conducted to determine the severity of the pollution impact to soil and groundwater, and remediation work can then get under way. Freedom submitted a site remediation plan in April but the specifics of the plan could change based on information obtained as part of the site characterization.