Putnam commission moving forward with waste lawsuit

Putnam commission moving forward with waste lawsuit

Source: Charleston Daily Mail (WV), April 15, 2014
Posted on: http://envfpn.advisen.com

The Putnam County Commission wants to move forward with legal action to force a Hurricane landfill to move waste stored there after the Jan. 9 chemical leak.

The commission voted this morning to hire attorney Mike Callaghan, a former assistant federal prosecutor and head of the state Department of Environmental Protection, to take their case to federal court.

“Basically, we’re going to file in federal court and it’s going to be for injunctive relief, to get Waste Management to remove the material and place it in a hazardous waste landfill instead of a regular landfill,” Callaghan said in a phone interview.

“We believe what was disposed of was a hazardous waste, as defined by federal law, and therefore cannot be in this landfill,” Callaghan said.

On the morning of Jan. 9, the DEP discovered thousands of gallons of MCHM and other chemicals leaking into the Elk River from a faulty storage tank owned by Freedom Industries, just outside Charleston city limits. The chemicals contaminated the tap water supply for 300,000 West Virginia residents and prompted ongoing discussions about water and chemical safety.

The DEP ordered Freedom to ship the remaining chemicals and any contaminated water at the site somewhere else. Initially the company shipped thousands of gallons to Poca Blending, a facility it owns in Nitro. After the DEP discovered emergency barriers there were woefully inadequate, they told Freedom to find another location.

Eventually, Freedom decided to ship some of the material to a Disposal Services Inc, a Hurricane-based landfill. Waste Management, the company that owns the landfill, applied for and received a special permit from the DEP to store the waste. The chemical and wastewater was mixed with sawdust before it was shipped to a lined storage holding area at the facility.

As of late March, about 50,000 gallons of waste was shipped to the Hurricane facility, according to the DEP.

The DEP and Freedom didn’t make any public announcement about shipping the waste to the Hurricane landfill before they began. Residents smelled the characteristic licorice odor of MCHM and complained, leading to calls from the Hurricane City Council and the county commission to move the chemicals again.

From the moment the chemicals spilled near Charleston, there have been discussions as to whether the materials were “hazardous.” The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration defines MCHM as hazardous, but it doesn’t meet the same standards under the state’s Hazardous Waste Emergency Response Fund.

“No, this is not a hazardous waste,” DEP Secretary Huffman told the Daily Mail in late January.

“Hazardous substance” isn’t defined in state code, but Huffman was confident the MCHM didn’t meet criterion for hazardous waste in state law. Federal lawmakers and officials have said it didn’t meet the standard under national law either.

Callaghan disagrees.

“We will prove scientifically that it’s a hazardous waste under federal law,” Callaghan said.

“The people in Putnam County, they can smell it and they’re worried about their water contamination, from it coming off of the property,” he added.

Waste Management, which didn’t immediately respond to a Daily Mail phone message this morning, already agreed not to accept any more of the waste at its site. The state said Freedom plans to ship the rest of the material to a hazardous waste disposal underground containment facility in northern Ohio.

Callaghan said he hoped to have the case filed in federal court by the end of the week.

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