Managers of bankrupt Freedom Industries continue to work toward getting their Elk River facility into a voluntary industrial remediation program, but Department of Environmental Protection officials want the company more focused on actually cleaning up contaminated soil at the site of the January chemical spill that polluted the drinking-water supply for hundreds of thousands of people.
Scott Mandirola, director of the DEP Division of Water and Waste Management, said he has been concerned about the possibility that some cleanup work could be delayed while the company worked to establish its eligibility for the agencys Voluntary Remediation Program.
It appears that we should have been moving faster down the remediation pathway, said Mandirola, whose staff has been overseeing the cleanup since the Jan. 9 spill of a mixture of Crude MCHM and other chemicals at Freedoms tank facility. Im looking for a little more in terms of when are you going to start digging?
Last week, Freedom submitted an updated plan to DEP to outline its proposal for more soil and groundwater testing that will help determine how much remediation work needs to be done. And today, Freedom hopes to begin cutting apart and tearing down the last of its chemical storage tanks.
But on Tuesday, the company faces a hearing before U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Ronald Pearson, who early this month issued a strongly worded order questioning whether Freedom was really committed to the cleanup. Pearson complained that Freedom was spending too much on lawyers and other professionals, wasnt making adequate progress at the site, and had warned in bankruptcy court filings that it might abandon the Elk River facility if cleanup costs appeared to be coming in too high.
Pearson ordered Freedom officials to appear in court prepared to answer serious questions about the extent to which the company intends to comply with existing demolition and cleanup orders and pay necessary environmental administrative claims to do so.
The dispute over Freedoms cleanup efforts comes just three months after Pearson had proclaimed in a formal court order that Freedom had been working conscientiously and diligently to implement a cost effective and safe means for demolition and cleanup at the site, located just 1.5 miles upstream from West Virginia American Waters regional drinking water intake.
Freedom contractors have removed most of the more than a dozen chemical storage tanks that stood at the companys Etowah Terminal prior to the Jan. 9 spill. Four tanks that remain were being used for storage of stormwater runoff while Freedom worked out a deal to ship that waste to the Charleston Sanitary Board, for treatment and disposal in the Kanawha River. The next phase for Freedom is removing those four tanks. Stormwater will then be collected in temporary storage tanks.
The companys new, 161-page Remediation Delineation and Investigation Work Plan, submitted to DEP last week, spells out a plan for additional contamination testing at the site, leading up to submission in December of an application for the site to enter DEPs voluntary cleanup program.
If allowed to proceed in this program, Freedom could have to meet less-stringent contamination standards than under existing DEP enforcement orders. Under existing orders, Freedom likely would have to clean up the Elk River site to the point where no MCHM can be detected in soil left at the location. Under the voluntary program, the cleanup standard would be a risk-based one, which would depend on what sort of potential for human exposure exists based on the planned future use of the land.
DEP concerned about pace of Freedom Industries cleanup