Conflict & Tragedy
West Virginia chemical spill company was exempt from EPA inspections
More than 300,000 people in 9 counties near Charleston, W.Va., remain without safe tap water four days after a chemical spill from Freedom Industries overflowed into the Elk River. The company responsible for spilling approximately 7,500 gallons of toxic 4-methylcyclohexene methanol Thursday, was not subject to any permits or inspections.
The New York Times reported, “According to Department of Environmental Protection officials, Freedom Industries, which owns the chemical tank that ruptured, is exempt from Department of Environmental Protection inspections and permitting since it stores chemicals, and does not produce them.”
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has since vowed to “look into tighter regulation of chemical storage facilities.” But looking into additional regulations is not the same as actually implementing them.
The current political climate has been dominated by Republicans pushing to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency and rollbacks on government regulations for businesses.
Additionally, the chemical spilled was used to wash coal before it’s sent to market and the coal industry has a powerful deregulation lobby.
Freedom’s crippled holding tank might not have passed an inspection if one were conducted. The leaky tank was part of an old Pennzoil refinery “dating back to the 1930s or 1940s,” a county official told CNN. And Charleston's Mayor Jones believes the chemicals went through “holes in a retaining wall.”
Since the inch-wide holes in the retaining wall were big enough to see, there is a chance Freedom Industries might have known that their 70 to 80-year-old tanks were in need of replacement or repair. It is therefore possible that the company did not incur the expense of fixing them because they didn’t have to.
If ever there were a classic case of deregulation disaster, this is it.
Author’s note: The opinions and commentary included in this report are based on the author’s original reporting and independent analysis of official documents and public information.
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