Responding to the Freedom Industries chemical spill
Freedom’s participation in the Department of Environmental Protection’s “voluntary remediation” program is off to a rocky start. Freedom sought acceptance into the program so that it wouldn’t have to remove all MCHM from the Elk River site, but would instead have to comply with a “risk-based standard” (whatever that means). Under the schedule laid out in its voluntary remediation agreement with DEP, Freedom had to submit its first “initial site investigation and interim measures report” by April 30th and the remediation work was scheduled to be complete in the first half of 2016. Instead, Freedom – in an apparent rush to sell the property by June – filed its first plan for approval with DEP a week early and announced that it would complete remediation in two weeks.
Meanwhile, Freedom has tried to convince its bankruptcy judge that it doesn’t have the money to put towards remediation. In a bankruptcy court filing on April 30th, Freedom proposed to set aside $150,000 for remediation work. DEP objected, asking the bankruptcy judge to order Freedom to direct $1 million towards remediation. Last week, Judge Pearson ordered Freedom to “access and control funds necessary to comply with requirements of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection”.
But there is still the fundamental problem that no one has come up with a standard for an acceptable level of MCHM in the soil at the site. DEP Secretary Huffman insists that the site must be remediated until there is no risk of MCHM getting into the drinking water. But it’s not clear how that translates into work being done at the site, or to the $1 million that DEP wants Freedom to come up with for the cleanup. Or, as Freedom’s Chief Restructuring Officer Mark Welch put it, “everyone is just guessing.”
It’s also going to be tough to determine whether Secretary Huffman’s requirement is being met since WV American Water’s installed chemical monitoring equipment at its intake that can’t detect for MCHM.