State and federal environmental officials say they don’t have a way to monitor air quality as chemical storage tanks are taken down at the industrial site that fouled public drinking supplies for 300,000 West Virginia water customers.
The work is scheduled to begin next week at the former Freedom Industries site on the Elk River.
A spokeswoman for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection told The Charleston Gazette the state lacks the technology to perform the air testing for traces of the toxic chemical MCHM and there are no established screening values for safe inhalation levels.
DEP officials have been working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on monitoring methods and an air quality screening level for MCHM. The EPA said that work is nearly complete.
“It is WVDEP’s decision as to how they plan to use the screening level and air sampling methodology,” the EPA said in a statement.
Besides the air monitoring, the DEP is still waiting for Freedom to submit a plan for controlling stormwater runoff during the tank demolition. The plan must be submitted to the DEP at least 48 hours before any of the tank demolition begins, said Scott Mandirola, director of the DEP’s Division of Water and Waste Management.
As cleanup activities increase at the site, the telltale licorice-like odor of MCHM could return because contaminated soil would be disturbed. MCHM’s odor can be picked up by the human nose at extremely low concentrations that officials say are well below any dangerous dose.
Freedom, which is amid bankruptcy proceedings, was the source of the chemical spill into West Virginia’s biggest drinking water supply.
The January spill caused a tap-water ban for 300,000 people for four to 10 days.