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Policy: Environment & Energy

Chemical disposal temporarily halted at WVa fill

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News,Business,West Virginia,Energy and Environment,West Virginia Chemical Spill

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A judge has barred West Virginia environmental regulators from allowing the disposal of wastewater from the site of a Charleston chemical spill at a Putnam County landfill.

Kanawha County Circuit Judge Paul Zakaib issued a temporarily ban late Monday against the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The city of Hurricane and the Putnam County Commission want to eliminate the dumping of the wastewater at the Disposal Services landfill in Hurricane. The material contains traces of the crude MCHM that spilled Jan. 9 at Freedom Industries, contaminating 300,000 people's drinking water for days.

Zakaib has scheduled a hearing for Friday afternoon at which he'll consider granting the plaintiffs' requests.

"It's definitely a temporary victory for sure," Hurricane Mayor Scott Edwards said Tuesday. "We're hopeful it will be a permanent victory."

DEP spokeswoman Kelley Gillenwater said she hadn't seen Zakaib's order and declined immediate comment Tuesday.

Putnam County officials said they weren't told about Waste Management's plan to dump the material at Disposal Services.

After the spill, the DEP ordered Freedom to remove all chemicals from the Charleston site. But when Freedom began transferring to a facility in Nitro, officials declared that facility unsafe.

According to the Putnam County Commission's petition filed last week, the DEP on Feb. 12 allowed Disposal Services to accept up to 100 tons of the wastewater through October, provided it was mixed with sawdust. The petition said the landfill has received about 40,000 gallons of wastewater from the Nitro site.

Putnam County officials started receiving complaints March 12 from residents near the landfill about the chemical's tell-tale licorice odor. DEP inspectors went to the landfill but issued no violation notices. The petition said the landfill voluntarily agreed to stop accepting the material, although the DEP has continued to allow Disposal Services to receive and maintain the material.

The plaintiffs also want to force Disposal Services to remove the material already in the landfill.

Hurricane has its own tap water system, separate from the West Virginia American Water network affected by the January spill. Edwards said the Putnam County landfill leaches into a local public service district's sewer system, which feeds into a wastewater treatment facility that discharges into Hurricane Creek.

Crude MCHM, the first chemical discovered in the spill, and stripped PPH, are used to clean coal. Little is known about their toxicity, in the short or long term. Neither is considered hazardous by federal environmental standards. Only a handful of studies exist for crude MCHM, and they were conducted on lab animals.

Health officials said more than a month ago that West Virginia American's tap water was safe to use, although many residents continue to use bottled water for drinking and other purposes.

Edwards contests the notion that crude MCHM isn't hazardous and said other landfills in the country are built for accepting such materials.

"Nobody in Hurricane or Putnam County wants MCHM in their backyard," Edwards said.

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