Freedom Industries has started tearing down its Elk River tank farm near Charleston, WV, where a faulty chemical storage tank contaminated the water supply of 300,000 people in January.
The company agreed to begin demolishing the site by this past Saturday. The agreement comes after the company completed a plan detailing how, and in what order, it would dismantle and remove its tanks from the site. That plan received approval and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) made it public last Wednesday.
Even before the agreed upon demolishing start date, Freedom already began cutting into tank 393, the northernmost tank on its property, to get at the “tank heel,” the last remnants of chemical in the tank. Because of that, the company was in compliance with the agreed-upon demolition schedule, said DEP spokesman Tom Aluise.
The company anticipates it will break even or make a small profit on the demolition after it sells its equipment as scrap metal.
The company, which filed for bankruptcy protection right after the leak, told U.S. Bankruptcy Court that it will permanently shut down after it has finished tearing down the site.
Almost all the chemicals are now off the site, but tank heel remains in the bottom of several tanks.
Tank heel is material that lies below the tank’s valve, so it cannot end up removed via the normal pumping processes. Workers will have to manually pump out the liquid before tanks end up demolished.
Aluise said there was no timeline for how long it would take to tear down the site.
It is likely the licorice odor associated with the leaked chemical, Crude 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM), will intensify during deconstruction. Aluise said there is a “really good chance” the odor will return.
It’s still unclear if there are any adverse health effects from the chemical’s fumes or odor, which were widespread after the leak and during the subsequent pipe-flushing process, but many residents reported nausea, light-headedness and other symptoms attributed to the smell.
The approved “tank decommission plan” states that the contractor will “control dust or other airborne emissions,” including by spraying water to contain dust. There is no plan to directly control the chemical odor.