Cause of West Virginia Storage Tank Leak Determined

An investigation by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board has determined the cause of a storage tank leak earlier this year in West Virginia. An inspection of tank 396 (which leaked) and other tanks at the Freedom industries found that there were holes in the roof of the tank that allowed water to leak in. The water then settled at the bottom of the tank where over time corrosion took its toll and ate away at the tank’s floor, eventually creating two small holes. The holes were both less than an inch in size but it was enough for 10,000 gallons of MCHM to leak through the floor of the tank and into the nearby Elk River, rendering the water supply of 300,000 people undrinkable for more than a week. The same problem was also discovered in tank 397 at the facility, though the hole had not yet penetrated the floor completely.

The investigation by the CSB also found “no record of a formal, industry-approved inspection performed on any of the chemical storage tanks at Freedom Industries.” Though informal visual inspections occurred, they were not done to code, and did not involve the emptying of storage tanks. Last week, work began on the demolition and removal of 10 tanks at the site, with Department of Environmental Protection officials on site as well as an asbestos removal contractor. “Four other tanks will be left on site to store stormwater runoff that comes into contact with potentially contaminated soil.” Removal of the tanks is expected to take between two and four weeks.

In the midst of the removal of the Freedom Industries storage tanks, West Virginia’s aboveground storage tank registration campaign continues. Storage tank owners whose tanks meet the specifications are required to register their tanks with the state by October 1st of this year.

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