The Jan. 9 spill of as much as 10,000 gallons from a steel tank next to the Elk River didn't just poison water supplies relied upon by 300,000 West Virginians. It revealed holes in state and federal safety rules big enough to drive hazmat-loaded trucks through.
The tanks that Freedom Industries uses to store chemicals at its facility in Charleston are more than 50 years old, and company officials knew that chemicals were being stored in them in ways that did not meet industry or EPA standards.
Environmental consultants audited storage drums for the company late last year, but never inspected the drum that leaked and contaminated water supplies. Its contents -- a toxic, little-understood coal-cleaning stew of 4-Methylcyclohexane methanol and something the company calls stripped PPH -- were considered nonhazardous under federal law. Still, if anybody had cared to check, they would have discovered that a leak from the aging drum could flow straight through gravel and cinder blocks and into the river.
That's according to congressional testimony by Rafael Moure-Eraso, chair of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.