CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Last February, Freedom Industries sent state officials a form telling them the company stored thousands of pounds of a coal-cleaning chemical called 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol in the storage tanks at its Etowah River Terminal.
The facility, along the Elk River not far from downtown Charleston, is about 1.5 miles upstream from the intake West Virginia American Water uses to supply drinking water for 300,000 residents across the capital city and the surrounding region. …
Asked late last week how much planning county officials had done for a possible leak from Freedom Industries into the region’s water supply, Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper was blunt.
“Not enough,” Carper said. But Carper also pointed the finger at the water company, saying West Virginia American certainly knew Freedom Industries was there and should have prepared for an accident like this one.
As the state of emergency continues, a wide variety of elected officials and government agencies are issuing statements to respond.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, for example, sent out a news release to remind employers that they must provide potable water for drinking and hand-washing in the workplace.
OSHA said it started an inspection Friday morning at Freedom Industries to “assess any potential worker safety and health issues related to the incident.”
But the release also noted that the operation “does not have OSHA history,” meaning — as confirmed by a review of OSHA data — that federal workplace safety officials have never inspected the site.
OSHA inspectors started to examine the facility in November 2009 as part of a program of special emphasis looking at accidents that prompted amputations, records show. But they discovered that Freedom Industries was in the wrong industry classification for that program, and they never did the inspection, said OSHA spokeswoman Lenore Uddyback-Fortson. …
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