It Could Happen Elsewhere

Chemical storage tanks at Freedom Industries in Charleston are going to be removed, beginning this week. Now we won’t have to worry any more about drinking water being contaminated by the Keystone Cops of the chemical industry.

Right. Reality, anyone?

Water supplies for about 300,000 West Virginians were contaminated by a dangerous chemical that leaked into the Elk River from a Freedom Industries tank earlier this year. No one died from drinking the water, but quite a few were sickened.

The more we learn about Freedom Industries, the scarier the story gets. Their incompetence would be funny in a way, but for the fact it could well have been deadly, had the water company involved and emergency agencies not acted quickly and effectively.

No one seemed to notice the chemical was leaking out of a tank. No one had checked to ensure a containment trench was in good shape and capable of containing the leaked substance.

Months later, after state officials insisted a proper containment trench be constructed, it nearly happened again. Earlier this month, on two separate days, water from rainstorms caused the trench to overflow. No chemicals got into the river.

But one reason the trench overflowed was that a sump pump installed to keep water from getting too high in the hole didn’t kick on. It had been set improperly.

Now, state officials are insisting another contractor oversee the site.

Here’s the thing: Do we really believe Freedom Industries-level incompetence is unique? It couldn’t happen again?

We know better.

What happened at Freedom Industries was a continuing, multi-level failure. On multiple occasions, workers at the site didn’t do their jobs. Supervisors didn’t check up on them. Management didn’t, either.

It happens all the time, occasionally with tragic results. Think about coal mine accidents.

Now, as a result of a law legislators enacted after the Freedom Industries spill, the state Department of Environmental Protection will be monitoring some chemical storage tanks. Let’s hope they do an effective job.

And let’s hope those in the private sector who handle chemical storage not covered by the law don’t make the mistake of laughing at Freedom Industries and assuming “it couldn’t happen here.”

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