The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

January 13, 2014

After 5 days, W.Va.'s water crisis nears its end

(Continued)

"We are working on some ideas right now," Huffman said. "I think a lot of folks will be calling for legislation and rightly so."

And there are signs that Freedom Industries did not respond appropriately. A state law requires immediate reporting, but Huffman said state environmental workers were on the spill site at 11:15 a.m. Thursday because of a call from the water company — not Freedom Industries.

The coal and chemical industries are major forces in the state's economy, providing thousands of jobs. West Virginia is the second-largest coal producing state, behind Wyoming, and the state has about 150 chemical companies.

But the jobs also pose risks of spills and mine disasters for their communities.

State officials started investigating the most recent spill when people complained about an odor coming from near the company's river terminal.

Freedom officials were also at the spill site when state officials arrived, yet they still did not actually report the spill until nearly an hour later.

"There's no question that they should have called earlier," Huffman said.

The company has said it removed the remaining chemical from the site and took it elsewhere, and the removal of other chemicals was ongoing. Company president Gary Southern held a brief news conference Friday night, but otherwise company officials have declined to comment.

"We have mitigated the risk, we believe, in terms of further material leaving this facility," he said then.

About 7,500 gallons of the chemical is believed to have leaked from the tank and a containment area and some of it got into the Elk River and the water treatment plant, which is about a mile downstream from Freedom Industries. The chemical quickly dissolves in water, meaning it can't be filtered out or skimmed from water, so people have had to wait for it to pass through the water system or be diluted to the point where the water is again safe.

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