The Charleston Gazette has a long and proud tradition as a crusading newspaper. Our late publisher, W.E. "Ned" Chilton III coined the phrase "sustained outrage" and insisted the Gazette live up to that motto with long-term coverage of important issues facing West Virginia and the nation.
The mission of the "Gazette Watchdog" is simple: To carry on that tradition. We make a commitment to our readers to serve as a public watchdog over government, business, and other powerful entities in West Virginia society, to ensure that the public interest is protected.
The Kentucky Court of Appeals on Friday upheld a lower court’s decision that a natural gas liquids pipeline would not have the right of eminent domain in the commonwealth. The unanimous decision means that only utilities regulated by the Public Service Commission can invoke eminent domain in Kentucky.
Whether, under West Virginia Code § 54-1-1 et seq., a proposed natural gas pipeline is “for public use,” as that term is used in W. Va. Code § 54-1-2(a)(3), when consumers of natural gas in West Virginia will not be served with gas from that pipeline, under reasonable and proper regulations, along the entire line traversed, and for reasonable fixed rates.
In this Nov. 19, 2014 file photo, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy speaks in Washington. The Obama administration issued new rules Wednesday to protect the nation’s drinking water and clarify which smaller streams, tributaries and wetlands are covered by anti-pollution and development provisions of the Clean Water Act. McCarthy said the rule will only affect waters that have a “direct and significant” connection to larger bodies of water downstream that are already protected. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)
My inbox is quickly filling up today with statements from the environmental organizations, all eager to get quoted saying something nice about the latest action by the Obama administration’s U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Here’s what EPA said this morning in a press release:
In an historic step for the protection of clean water, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army finalized the Clean Water Rule today to clearly protect from pollution and degredation the streams and wetlands that form the foundation of the nation’s water resources.
The rule ensures that waters protected under the Clean Water Act are more precisely defined and predictably determined, making permitting less costly, easier, and faster for businesses and industry. The rule is grounded in law and the latest science, and is shaped by public input. The rule does not create any new permitting requirements for agriculture and maintains all previous exemptions and exclusions.
Four workers killed by a lethal gas in November 2014 would be alive today had their employer, DuPont, taken steps to protect them, a U.S. Department of Labor investigation found.
The department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration today cited DuPont for 11 safety violations and identified scores of safety upgrades the company must undertake to prevent future accidents at its Lannate/API manufacturing building in La Porte. The company employs 313 workers who manufacture crop protection materials and chemicals there.
“Four people lost their lives and their families lost loved ones because DuPont did not have proper safety procedures in place,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. “Had the company assessed the dangers involved, or trained their employees on what to do if the ventilation system stopped working, they might have had a chance.”
The fatal incident occurred as one worker was overwhelmed when methyl mercaptan gas was unexpectedly released when she opened a drain on a methyl mercaptan vent line. Two co-workers who came to her aid were also overcome. None of the three wore protective respirators. A fourth co-worker — the brother of one of the fallen men — attempted a rescue, but was unsuccessful. All four people died in the building.
Methyl mercaptan is a colorless gas with a strong odor. It is used in pesticides, jet fuels and plastics. At dangerous levels of exposure, the gas depresses the central nervous system and affects the respiratory center, producing death by respiratory paralysis.
Among the citations issued by federal inspectors was one for a “repeat violation” for allegedly “not training employees on using the building’s ventilation system and other safety procedures, such as how to respond if the fans stopped working.” OSHA noted, without further explanation:
In July 2010, DuPont was cited for a similar violation.
In the Belle incident, the OSHA citation in question stated:
Small Lots Manufacturing (SLM) Unit, Phosgene Shed: Employees working in the SLM Unit were not trained to recognize that leaving liquid phosgene in a non-vented flexible transfer hose for an extended period of time could result in the rupture of the flexible hose due to the thermal expansion of the liquid phosgene as determined on January 25, 2010.
The large-scale chemical spill on January 9, 2014 from coal processing and cleaning storage tanks of Freedom Industries in Charleston affected the drinking water supply to 300,000 people in Charleston, West Virginia metropolitan, while the short-term and long-term health impacts remain largely unknown and need to be assessed and monitored. There is a lack of publically available toxicological information for the main contaminant 4-methyl-1-cyclohexanemethanol (4-MCHM). Particularly, little is known about 4-MCHM metabolites and their toxicity. This study reports timely and original results of the mechanistic toxicity assessment of 4-MCHM and its metabolites via a newly developed quantitative toxicogenomics approach, employing proteomics analysis in yeast cells and transcriptional analysis in human cells. These results suggested that, although 4-MCHM is considered only moderately toxic based on the previous limited acute toxicity evaluation, 4-MCHM metabolites were likely more toxic than 4-MCHM in both yeast and human cells, with different toxicity profiles and potential mechanisms. In the yeast library, 4-MCHM mainly induced chemical stress related to transmembrane transport and transporter activity, while 4-MCHM metabolites of S9 mainly induced oxidative stress related to antioxidant activity and oxidoreductase activity. With human A549 cells, 4-MCHM mainly induced DNA damage-related biomarkers, which indicates that 4-MCHM is related to genotoxicity due to its DNA damage effect on human cells and therefore warrants further chronic carcinogenesis evaluation.
And here’s the conclusion:
… This study revealed different toxicity and potential mechanisms of 4-MCHM and its metabolites by S9 in yeast and human cells (A549). These results suggested that, although 4-MCHM is considered only moderately toxic based on previous limited acute toxicity evaluation, its metabolites may be more toxic than 4-MCHM and are more relevant to human exposure. Our study at the molecular level revealed some subcytotoxic molecular mechanisms such as DNA damage potential, which indicates that 4-MCHM is related to carcinogenesis and reproductive toxicity due to its DNA damage effect on human cells. Our results suggested that long-term medical monitoring should be considered for the population. It may also provide insights into potential long-term aquatic toxicity issues. The toxicogenomics-based molecular toxicity screening assay employed in this study provides timely information regarding the underlying mechanisms of toxic action of 4-MCHM and its metabolites, especially related to low-dose and chronic exposures, which makes it a useful tool for public health protection and health monitoring needs.
This morning, Welch responded with this new court filing:
Welch has some strong words back at the DEP regarding the agency’s comments about Freedom’s efforts to come up with a viable cleanup plan under the agency’s Voluntary Remediation Program:
Saying “NO” to proposals made by a VRP participant under the VRP is easy. It allows for plausible deniability and blame if the clean-up project were not to be successfully completed by the VRP participant.
There’s some good news for Kanawha Valley residents in the American Lung Association’s latest “State of the Air” annual report:
The American Lung Association’s “State of the Air 2015” report released today finds the 3-state, 12-county Charleston-Huntington-Ashland, WV-OH-KY metropolitan area improved to its best-ever performance for two of the three measures of air pollution the report tracks. Compared with last year’s report, its ranking among metro areas nationwide also improved in those two categories: fine particle pollution measured on a short-term (daily) and long-term (year-round) basis.
According to the 2015 report, based on data for the three-year period of 2011-2013, all monitored counties in the Charleston-Huntington-Ashland metro area earned “A” grades for posting zero days of unhealthy levels of particle pollution, placing the metro area onto the American Lung Association’s “Cleanest Cities” list for this pollutant.
The metro area’s rank for this measure improved slightly from 96th to 98th worst in the nation. In addition to Cabell County, WV, which was promoted to its first “A” after three straight years of “B’s,” Kanawha County, WV, Boyd County, KY, and Lawrence and Scioto Counties, OH, all repeated last year’s “A” grades.
Freedom Industries officials are pressing West Virginia regulators for speedy approval of the company’s plan to complete a voluntary cleanup of the site of the January 2014 chemical leak that contaminated the drinking water for hundreds of thousands of residents in the Kanawha Valley and surrounding communities.
… Welch told Pearson in his new report that the company had submitted a work plan earlier last week and that Freedom could complete the remediation contemplated within two weeks. Welch said the DEP had agreed to “expeditiously review and respond to the work plan.”
Welch said Freedom has dug up 600 cubic yards of contaminated soil and would, under its proposed work plan, dig up another 200 cubic yards of soil from areas where MCHM was stored or handled. He said the company would fill in with clean soil a water-runoff collection trench where sampling has continued to pick up the presence of MCHM. A new sediment-control pond would be built along the Elk River that could be used, at least temporarily, for continued sampling.
Completion of this work, Welch told the court, would mean “there is no risk of further MCHM leaching into the Elk River.”
This morning, the citizen group People Concerned about Chemical Safety, responded to that story, with a press release that urged DEP to “prevent cutting corners” on the Freedom cleanup project:
Recent tests, however, performed by U.S. Geological Survey, Virginia Tech and University of Memphis leave more questions on the toxicity of the spilled material.
Past studies assume the spilled material to have the same fate properties regardless of temperature. However, a recent report from Virginia Tech and University of Memphis indicates differing fate properties proving the previous hypothesis false. This indicates the potential for exposure concentrations to vary
The U.S. Geological Survey recently determined that a form of methyl 4-methylcyclohexanecarboxylate (or MMCHC), was identified as another component of the spilled material and that it “likely contributed to the tap water odor complaints of Charleston residents.” No toxicological data is available for this chemical and the CDC has never established a screening level for this chemical.
What is clear from these recent findings is that the data does not yet exist to properly determine the risk at the Freedom cleanup site. In light of these findings, PCACS is urging DEP to ensure additional tests are performed to properly characterize site risk.
In a lot of ways, the “After Action Review” made public last week by the Tomblin administration was an amazing document. Click here to read the whole thing or here to download the main body summary of the findings.
Writing in our news story about the report, I called it the state’s “most frank assessment” to date of government’s performance in responding to the Freedom Industries chemical leak and the water crisis that followed. Among the admissions:
— The state “struggled at times” to effectively communicate information to the public through the news media. News conferences occurred with little notice, and messages were “lost amid confusing or ambiguous statements.” The report noted that “scientific information ought to be conveyed in an easily understandable manner.”
The West Virginia Manufacturers Association and three national chemical industry trade groups teamed up to present the forum, which focused on government and media response to the freedom industries water disaster.
The panelists included West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection Director Randy Huffman, Kanawha County Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Dale Petry and Eyewitness News Reporter Kennie Bass, representing media who covered the water crisis.
Topics included how the local and state first responders dealt with the water shortage, how information was gathered and reported by journalists and what we have learned in case a similar disaster happens.
Dean Cordle, president and CEO of AC & S incorporated said it is part of the industries “responsible care.”
“The purpose of today’s event is to bring together the community leaders and industry and talk about safe practices that are currently being employed in the chemical industry,” Cordle said. “And to broaden our program called responsible care to include some of those smaller companies that can benefit from practices that we employ.”
I had heard of this event and checked in last week, but was told by the American Chemistry Council, one of the co-sponsors, that it was not open to the media.
Interestingly enough, Dean Cordle of AC&S Inc. showed up at a meeting of the Daily Mail’s editorial board that produced this story:
Chemical industry executives advocated for industry-driven safety practices during a workshop hosted by the West Virginia Manufacturing Association on Monday.
The American Chemistry Council (ACC), the National Association of Chemical Distributors (NACD) and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers’ Center for Chemical Process Safety joined state agencies and community leaders in Charleston for a day of discussion and workshops aimed at encouraging companies to improve safety practices by joining industry safety cooperatives.