The New York Times / Ty Wright

Were Lax Regulations To Blame For W. Va. Chemical Spill?

Environmental inspectors reportedly hadn't checked up on Freedom Industries, the site responsible for the chemical leak, since 1991.

By Elizabeth Hagedorn | January 13, 2014

Days after a chemical leak first tainted West Virginia's tap water, thousands of residents are still waiting to hear when it will be safe to use again. But another question has emerged in the aftermath.

How was a storage facility containing industrial chemicals allowed to store them so close to the state’s major water supply? (Via BBC)

Freedom Industries is the company responsible for the leak. It uses a chemical known as crude MCHM to clean coal after it’s mined from the ground.

And it seems authorities were aware the company was storing up to 1 million pounds of the chemical  — an estimated 7,500 gallons of which leaked into the Elk River last week, shutting down schools and businesses across the state. (Via CBS)

That’s according to the Charleston Gazette, which reports Freedom Industries informed the state about a year ago it was storing large quantities of the potentially dangerous chemical.

A chemical safety expert questioned why that was overlooked, telling the Gazette: “Obviously, the whole idea of the chemical inventory reports is to properly inform local emergency officials about the sorts of materials they might have to deal with  … It’s just head-in-the-sand to be ignoring this type of threat.”

The Wall Street Journal reports the reason the company largely avoided state and federal oversight is because the coal-cleaning chemical was used mainly for storage, not manufacturing or processing.

It's been more than 20 years, according to The New York Times, since environmental inspectors checked up on the company.

Possibly most troubling — not much is known about the effects of industrial chemical. And as West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin told reporters, Freedom Industries hasn't provided much guidance. 

"It's one that we've had to do a lot of research on ... I think that perhaps they could have been a little more forthcoming." (Via CNN)

Federal authorities have opened an investigation into the spill, and will look at, among other things, why it took the company responsible for the leak hours to report it.   

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