The STILL unfolding WV Elk River spill tragedy, including ties of company owner to mining company seeking OH permits

Update 12-11-14: Owner of Freedom Industries arrested by FBI on federal fraud and other charges. Released on $100,000 bond, he faces a Dec. 18 hearing.

April 7, 2014: “Nearly three months after an industrial chemical spill left 300,000 West Virginia residents without tap water for about a week, researchers have found that the accident continues to affect the water and air quality in the Mountain State.” More…

A summary, updated 2-24-14, with links to the still unfolding Elk River chemical spill, revealed 1-9-14, and associated corporate crimes that date back decades:

2-13-14: Owner of Freedom Industries, J. Clifford Forrest, revealed as owner of Rosebud Mining Company, which is seeking to deep mine and strip mine in Carroll County, OH. Canton RepositoryRichard C. Salhi, attorney for Carroll Concerned Citizens, sent a letter Monday to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, asking it to place a hold on new coal mining permit requests by Rosebud, because its owner, J. Clifford Forrest, also owns Freedom Industries, the company responsible for the Jan. 9 spill near Charleston, W.Va….”We strongly believe that Mr. Forrest’s role in the Freedom Industries fiasco necessitates that your department subject this application to greatly enhanced scrutiny if Carroll County is to be protected from the type of sordid events being revealed in Charleston,” Salhi wrote in the letter, addressed to ODNR Director James Zehringer. More…

And from 1-24-14: “Among other donations, last year, Forrest personally maxed out his contribution to Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH), who sits on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. He also donated to Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, and Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, a West Virginia Republican who sits on both the House subcommittee on railroads, pipelines, and hazardous Materials and the subcommittee on water resources and environment….” More…

2-11-14: Downstream Strategies finds contamination in 40% of homes sampled one month after the spill Think Progress: “…All of the homes tested had followed the prescribed flushing procedure — several of them multiple times, said Evan Hansen, principal at Downstream Strategies, the environmental consulting firm that carried out the testing.

“’I’m not surprised that MCHM is still being detected,’ said Hansen. ‘In talking to people in the area, people are still reporting smells and some people are reporting reactions with their skin, so it seems clear that in some locations, the water isn’t clean yet.’

“Last week, several schools in the area were forced to close after staff and students complained of the licorice-like smell characteristic of crude MCHM. One teacher reportedly fainted, and “several students and employees complained of lightheadedness and burning eyes and noses.” More…

One Month After West Virginia Chemical Spill Major Data Gaps and Uncertainties Remain 2-10-14: “…The latest sampling data (2/7-2/8) at locations such as area fire hydrants and hospitals and at schools shows that MCHM is at non-detect levels (<10 parts per billion) in most samples, but the chemical is still being detected in a minority of the samples despite extensive flushing. Despite repeated calls to do so, officials appear to have yet to conduct any sampling of taps in residents’ homes.

“This past week also featured a press conference by state and federal officials seeking to explain their response to the spill (a video of the entire press conference is available in four parts here; it’s worth watching).

Yesterday’s Charleston Gazette features the latest in a long series of outstanding front-line reports by Ken Ward, Jr., and his colleagues, who have closely followed every twist and turn of both the spill and the government’s response to it. Yesterday’s article makes clear the extent to which federal officials were winging it in the hours and days after the spill was discovered as they rushed to set a “safe” level for MCHM in tap water….”

The article explains the extremely limited data on which a decision to announce a “safe” level was made. The author concludes:

“I also believe, in the face of the extremely limited data available and the enormous uncertainties involved, CDC should have refused to recommend a ‘safe’ level and made clear there was no scientific basis for setting one. Instead, CDC and the state of West Virginia should have told affected residents to avoid contact with the water until the chemical could not be detected—something they did for pregnant women a week into the spill…” More…

And from the top, the “beginning” of the story:

1-10-14: Chemical spill shuts down much of W.Va. capital and, as of midweek following first news of the spill, is a “60-mile” plume traveling down the Ohio River 

10,000 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol and other chemicals that make up MCHM crude as well as a mix of glycol ethers (PPH) leaked from a tank and under a minimal containment area and flowed into Elk River, compromising water supplies of eight counties and Charleston at first and then all water supplies downstream. A federal disaster was declared and the capital shut down for several days. Water could not be used to drink, bathe, or in cooking.  As of midweek, hundreds of visits to hospitals were reported.  From WVGazette: “…Initially, the DEP reported that it had no permits for the operation, and that Freedom Industries did not require any permits. The DEP said the company did not manufacture any products, that the operation was ‘chiefly a storage facility’ with ‘no emissions’ and that ‘the materials it stores are not considered hazardous.'” [Note: the 10,000 gallon figure was only revealed weeks after the spill as was the presence of the glycol.]

Sound familiar? The “not hazardous” designation is based not on lack of hazard but on lack of regulation by one agency. According to OSHA, the chemical is hazardous. It is known to damage the heart, liver, kidneys, and lungs at high exposures. It has not been evaluated for carcinogenicity or other long-term effects.

From WV Gazette (What is ‘Crude MCHM’? Few know, 1-10-14): “Material-safety sheets from several manufacturers list little in the way of health information. Toxicological databases provide few answers. ‘No specific information is available in our database regarding the toxic effects of this material for humans,’ one chemical fact sheet explains. ‘However, exposure to any chemical should be kept to a minimum. Skin and eye contact may result in irritation. May be harmful if inhaled or ingested.’ Carcinogenic effects? No information available. Mutagenic effects? No information available. Developmental toxicity? No information available..The lack of health guidelines or regulatory limits isn’t that unusual, either. Few chemicals are actually regulated by safe-drinking-water or other water-quality rules, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has tested only about 200 of the 84,000 chemicals in the agency’s inventory. ‘Most chemicals in commerce we know very little about,’ said Celeste Monforton, a George Washington University public-health researcher. ‘This stuff is in the water now, and people have ingested it, and we just don’t know. It’s very concerning.'” At least 169 people sought medical attention and at least ten were hospitalized, according to state officials as reported in the New York Times.

1-12-14, Crisis ‘pulls back the curtain’ on water threatsSunday Gazette-Mail: “…the only permit Freedom Industries appears to have had from the state Department of Environmental Protection is an industrial stormwater permit, meant to cover runoff from the site. The permit included no specific discharge limits for any chemicals, leaving it up to company “best management practices” with enforcement by DEP inspections. DEP officials, though, have said that — prior to Thursday’s leak — the site hadn’t been inspected since 1991….OSHA has never inspected the company, records show.”

An article in the New York Times concludes, “Cindy Rank, chairwoman of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy’s mining committee, said that the coal lobby has wielded great influence in crafting state environmental regulations. ‘Accidents are always preventable. For the most part I think that’s true in these disasters that keep happening,’ she said. She recalled negotiations over a groundwater protection bill from the early 1990s. ‘We swallowed hard and allowed the coal industry to get away with a lot in that bill,’ she said.” More…

The lack of scientific information, protective regulation, and government oversight in the operations of this industry is abhorrent. This “incident,” with its close parallels to fracking and its waste transportation and storage (as at the Green Hunter facility in New Matamoras, OH, immediately adjacent to the Ohio River), should certainly be yet another wake-up call to the scale of risks involved. Oh, and Freedom Industries, the company responsible for contaminating the water of 300,000 Kanawha Valley residents and sending dozens to hospital, was “founded by a two-time convicted felon, benefited from the 2009 federal stimulus and at least two of its executives have longstanding ties to the Charleston business community.” The business also has close business ties to the Koch brothers. 1-13-14

Updates: the CDC designation of 1 part per million as the maximum level of safety in drinking water is based on a single unpublished study by the chemical’s manufacturer “in which rats were fed MCHM until it killed them,” according to Dr. Letitia E. Tierney, commissioner of the state Bureau for Public Health, as reported in the New York Times. A bit primitive and inadequate for a “safety standard,” isn’t it? No long-term effects evaluated. No assessment of potential effects on humans, especially vulnerable populations such as infants and children and health-compromised populations. No peer-reviewed results. No objectivity of the data. No real data at all in this “standard”!

Time Magazine weighs in the role of the weak, outdated Toxic Substances Control Act in the WV crisis.  1-14-14

The story continues…Charleston Daily Mail reports Influx of ER visits reported following lifted ‘do not use’ advisories 1-15-14 and further information on CDC’s subsequent recommendation that pregnant women not drink the water until no MCMH was detectable by water authorities. 1-16-14

Ben Stout, biologist at Wheeling Jesuit University, explains that MCHM is hydrophobic so extremely difficult to flush out of hot water tanks and pipes. 1-18-14

Water privatization and influence of the coal industry on government in WV play a huge role in the scope of problem, reported in Ecowatch: “The fact that 16% of the state’s population depends on [WV American Water Company’s] Kanawha Valley Water Treatment Facility for drinking water is a central factor in the scale of the disaster and, as the Public Service Commission paper trail demonstrates, the coal industry has a lot of culpability in that situation as well. But still other factors have led to the expansion and consolidation of WVAWC’s service territory, which is why the moral of this story applies beyond coal country…” Read more… 1-17-14

Freedom Enterprises declares bankruptcy. Surprise, surprise. Freedom Enterprises also has a history of tax evasion and criminal convictions of its executives. “…On July 27, 2005, Kennedy, the founder of Freedom and Poca, pled guilty to federal income tax evasion for not paying the government more than $1 million he had withheld from employee paychecks….Freedom owes $3.6 million to its top 20 unsecured creditors, according to bankruptcy documents. The company also owes more than $2.4 million in unpaid taxes to the Internal Revenue Service, and the IRS has placed at least three liens on Freedom’s property, demanding payment. The unpaid taxes date back to at least 2000, according to a lien filed in 2010. Under the bankruptcy code, Chapter 11 permits a company to reorganize and continue operating…The West Virginia Bureau of Employment Programs has placed at least two liens on Freedom’s property, for about $4,000 in unpaid unemployment compensation insurance. Those liens were filed in 2002 and 2003. On Jan. 9, the day the leak contaminating the Elk River was discovered, Freedom and its subsidiary, Etowah River Terminal, also owed nearly $93,000 in Kanawha County property taxes, about half of which was due on Oct. 1, 2013, and had become delinquent…” More… (Sunday Gazette-Mail) 1-18-14

Emergency room visits continue to rise since the “do not drink” ban was lifted. 1-19-14

1-21-14, Authorities learn that another chemical, PPH, a polyglycol ether, was also in the tank. More information to come, we can be sure.

This was one one of several chemical spills in the region that week. The Ohio River near Belpre, Ohio, experienced a “minor” [sic] fish kill after two chemical leaks from Kraton Polymers. And CBS reports 150 gallons of fuel oil leaking into the Delaware River (1-16-14).

A former WV coal miner puts this spill in the context of the ongoing devastation by the coal industry of West Virginia and its water supply: “We’ve Been Dumping Those Chemicals In The Water For Decades” Business Insider 1-21-14

More than 500 people have been evaluated at hospitals with symptoms as of Jan. 27, according to the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

1-29-14: U.S. Chemical Safety Board Chair calls for regulatory reform and immediate action by US EPA to prevent further devastating accidents like Elk River. Note: This urgent “reform” wouldn’t protect us from fracking and frack waste accidents, since frack industry materials have been exempted from hazardous waste regulation.

Chickens are laying blue licorice-smelling eggs, attacking one another, and fouling their roosts as a result of the poisoning.

See also Bill Moyers’ Bumbling, Blame and Bankruptcy in Wake of West Virginia Chemical Spill. An excerpt:According to The Wall Street Journal, a company called Chemstream Holdings paid $20 million and is now the sole owner of Freedom Industries. Chemstream Holdings is owned by Pennsylvania coal magnate J. Clifford Forrest, president of Rosebud Mining Corporation.

“Barrett notes that separate West Virginia filings also list Forrest as the manager of two of the companies that merged with Freedom last month.

“Forrest and Rosebud are heavy political donors. According to Open Secrets, during the 2012 election cycle, Rosebud and its officers donated almost $600,000 to Republican candidates, PACs and outside spending groups.

“Among other donations, last year, Forrest personally maxed out his contribution to Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH), who sits on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. He also donated to Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, and Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, a West Virginia Republican who sits on both the House subcommittee on railroads, pipelines, and hazardous Materials and the subcommittee on water resources and environment….” More…