2014 spill that contaminated water supplies was caused by lack of proper tank inspections and repairs

The massive chemical spill in West Virginia that contaminated the tap water of about 300,000 local residents in January 2014 could have been prevented if Freedom Industries had conducted appropriate inspections and repairs, the US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has concluded.

The tanks, one of which leaked an estimated 38,000 litres of crude (4-methylcyclohexyl)methanol (MCHM) mixed with propylene glycol phenyl ethers into the Elk River, hadn’t been internally inspected for at least 10 years before the incident, the CSB found.

In its final report, the CSB said the tank had two small holes on its floor, caused by pitting corrosion, through which the MCHM mixture escaped into the Elk River. The water company and local authorities were also unable to effectively communicate the risks to affected residents, in part because of Freedom Industries’ inability to provide immediate information about the characteristics and quantity of spilled chemicals.

For example, Freedom initially reported that the release comprised 3800 litres of crude MCHM, but over the following days and weeks that figure increased to 38,000 litres. In addition, the presence of polyglycol ethers in the spill was not made public until 13 days after the initial leak was discovered. That delayed decisions to issue a ‘no not use order’ for local tap water.