Source: Charleston Daily Mail (WV), April 15, 2014
A contractor hired to remediate the Elk River site of a chemical leak recently submitted its plan to the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The key word is plan — with many of the details still up in the air as the Freedom Industries location remains largely unchanged since officials discovered chemicals leaking in early January.
“As indicated (in the report), much information will be determined once the tanks are removed from the release area and the site characterization can be completed,” states the report, created by Pittsburgh-based Civil & Environmental Consulting LLC.
On Jan. 9, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection discovered at least 10,000 gallons of MCHM and other chemicals leaking from a faulty storage tank owned by Freedom Industries. An unknown amount of the chemical seeped through a wall and into the Elk River, eventually overwhelming the local water treatment facility and contaminating tap water for 300,000 West Virginia residents.
The DEP ordered Freedom to clean up the spill and the site. Freedom hired CEC days after the spill to help with the entire site remediation plan.
Earlier this year the company released its tank deconstruction plan. The 14-page document outlines how the company plans to move forward with tearing down the 17 tanks on site.
That’s started already, with six of the fiberglass tanks slated for deconstruction late last week, said DEP spokeswoman Kelly Gillenwater. The tank that leaked, Tank 396, will remain intact until the U.S. Chemical Safety Board arrives on site next week to take portions of the tank wall.
Site remediation can move forward once all of the tanks are removed. At that point, the plan states there are several disposal options.
Depending on how far and wide the chemicals seeped into the ground, soil affected by the spill could be excavated and taken to an off-site disposal, according to the plan. They could also simply wait for the remaining MCHM to flow into containment trenches on the site, or add materials that would create a “healthier environment” for organisms that could consume MCHM.
However, tests of both surface water and ground water supplies show the material spread or remains in unknown quantities on site.
In testing, CEC says there are pockets of MCHM likely from spills during clean up immediately after the leak “or earlier due to historical small spills that occurred during tanker truck loading and unloading operations.”
“The concentration of MCHM in water from (the former MCHM loading area) is approximately the drinking water advisory limit,” the report continues.
Tests of groundwater show little impact at the site on deep groundwater zones, according to the report. However, monitoring of flow patterns for shallow groundwater provides “. . . evidence that shallow groundwater continues to mobilize residual product in subsurface soils,” according to a portion of the report outlining site characterization.
Once the tanks are off the site more tests on the soil will provide a better picture of the site’s contamination status, according to the report. Pumping of water from onsite or shallow water wells could speed up the entire remediation process once soil remediation is complete.
Any water pumped from the wells would be disposed of using off-site methods already planned for the hundreds of thousands of gallons of chemical and water waste stored at the site and another Freedom location, according to the report.
Wastewater collected from the site of the chemical leak will be pumped hundreds of feet underground at a location in northeast Ohio. The first two tanker truck-loads of wastewater collected from the site of the spill were shipped last week from Poca Blending — the Nitro-based site owned by Freedom Industries, according to the DEP.
The site is an underground injection control well, or UIC, Gillenwater said. The DEP was told the name of the site is “Vickery,” she said.
Vickery Environmental LLC is a commercial waste disposal facility in Vickery, Ohio, located about 15 miles southwest of Sandusky, Ohio. A company representative told the Daily Mail “for proprietary reasons” Vickery doesn’t disclose whether it’s storing waste from any particular business.
Much of the spill waste chemical was shipped to Poca Blending after the leak, despite the site lacking any adequate emergency barriers to prevent any subsequent spills from leaving the Nitro location.
The DEP discovered the lacking secondary containment, issued another round of violations and told Freedom to find a new solution for the waste. It did ship about 50,000 gallons of chemical wastewater to a landfill in Hurricane. However, city officials cried foul after learning about the wastewater’s new home, and the landfill eventually declined to accept any more of the material.
As of March 2013, Vickery operated four hazardous waste underground injection wells. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency says injection wells can range from 1,700 to more than 10,000 feet underground.
An Ohio EPA fact sheet about the Vickery site says the waste is injected into sandstone that is about 2,800 feet below the ground. The waste is pumped into the rock, displacing salty ground water or brines that are naturally contained in pores already found in the rock, according to the Ohio EPA.
“The injection zone is separated from the lowermost source of drinking water by approximately 1,600 feet of shale, limestone, dolomite, siltstone and sandstone,” the fact sheet states.
The remaining amount of wastewater at the Poca Blending site will also be shipped to the Vickery location, Gillenwater said. As of the end of March there was also 700,000 gallons of wastewater at the site of the spill.
Freedom sent three “truckloads” of this wastewater to two wastewater treatment facilities in Ohio and a third in North Carolina last week as well, Gillenwater said. She described them as “trial runs” to determine if each of the treatment plant’s “handling methods (not just treatment, but how much the site can handle at a time and how quickly it can treat the material) are effective and appropriate.”
The trustees handling Freedom’s bankruptcy — Freedom filed for bankruptcy in federal court days after the leak was discovered — will determine which of the three sites works the best for the rest of the wastewater based on the trial runs, Gillenwater said.
There’s no set timeframe as to when the spill site remediation will be complete.