What Caused the West Virginia Chemical Leak?

As we discussed in our blog last week, a storage tank at the Freedom Industries facility in Charleston, West Virginia dumped 7,500 gallons of a chemical used to clean coal into the Elk River. This chemical then leached into the water supply, and while officials have declared it safe to drink, many West Virginia residents are questioning whether the water really is safe for consumption.

So what caused the tank at Freedom Industries to leak in the first place? First of all, the storage tanks at the facility were built in the 1940s and 1950s, making them at least 60 if not 70 years old. The factor that could have pushed the old tank over the edge may have been the polar vortex, which brought sub-freezing temperatures to the region shortly before the tank leaked. The following is from the Washington Post:

“The person close to Freedom Industries, which has hired two contractors to help with the cleanup, said the company has emptied the tank and looked inside. He said the bottom of the tank had been pushed inward, suggesting damage from water underneath that froze in the unusually harsh cold earlier that week. He added, however, ‘there are many, many additional pieces of information needed before anyone knows why the tank failed.’”

So, while it can’t be said for certain, frozen water may have played a role in compromising the integrity of the old storage tank. According to the Post, there were also cracks in the concrete containment wall that was supposed to prevent a leak from overflowing into the river.

West Virginia tank leak

The Elk River in Charleston, West Virginia, where the leak occurred.

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