Elk River runoff treated at Belpre area business

BELPRE – Some runoff water from the Charleston site where a January chemical spill into the Elk River affected the water supply for 300,000 West Virginians is being brought to and treated at a Washington County facility.

Enviro-Tank Clean Inc. at 12381 State Route 7, Unit A, north of Belpre plans to accept up to 200,000 gallons of rainwater collected at the site for treatment.

Company officials said tests showed a level of MCHM, the primary chemical that spilled, in the untreated water of 22 parts per million. After treatment, it was non-detectable in water that is then discharged into the City of Belpre’s sewer system for another round of treatment.

During a tour of the facility Wednesday, Enviro-Tank Vice President Ray Lutes described the water they’re receiving as “seep water” – rain that has come in contact with the Freedom property and been captured in a tank and sent out for disposal.

“It’s a non-hazardous material because we are strictly a non-hazardous material facility,” Lutes said.

According to the Associated Press, crude MCHM, the first chemical discovered in the spill, and stripped PPH, which also spilled, 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.

The state advised residents not to drink, bathe, wash clothes or dishes for several weeks after the spill.

The water Enviro-Tank is handling is not from the original spill. It’s “any rainwater or snow melt that has come in contact with potentially contaminated soil at the … site,” said Kelley Gillenwater, spokeswoman for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. “It has to be disposed of properly. It can’t just be allowed to run into the river.”

Ohio Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman Heather Lauer said Wednesday that Enviro-Tank notified the agency it would be working with water from the Freedom site.

“They didn’t have to,” she said. “It was more of a courtesy than anything else.”

Enviro-Tank President Bhajan Saluja said before he agreed to treat the water, the company ran three sample batches through its treatment process on April 8 and 9. That’s when the 22 parts per million level of MCHM was initially tested, and the effluent tested 48 hours later – the amount of time it generally takes water to go through the system – resulted in a non-detect finding.

Lutes said the local facility could not handle the high concentrations from the initial spill and would not try.

“I reserve the right to reject the load if it’s not good water,” Saluja said.

Water samples before and after treatment continue to be taken and tested each week, although it takes about 10 days to get results back, Lutes said. Samples are saved for seven days in case the city wants to test them as well.

Lutes noted the licorice-like smell associated with the water contamination.

“The water we’re receiving has no odor at all,” he said.

The company is not testing for PPH because it was such a small portion of the original spill, Lutes said.

Belpre Mayor Mike Lorentz said Enviro-Tank representatives spoke with city officials Tuesday. He’s also spoken with the Ohio EPA and West Virginia DEP.

“After talking to two states and Mr. Lutes and Saluja, I’m not the least bit worried about it,” he said.

On Wednesday, Lutes walked through Enviro-Tank’s treatment process at the site.

“We’re very proud of this facility. We’re very proud of what we do,” he said.

Two tanks of water, each containing about 5,500 gallons, are brought from the Freedom site three days a week, Lutes said. The water is unloaded into a tank into which activated carbon and specific polymers are pumped to break down organic compounds, like MCHM, as a pre-treatment process.

The main treatment process consists of multiple steps to remove solids from the water, along with a biological component in which microscopic organisms consume organic compounds in aerated tanks.

Once the treated water emerges from that area, it goes through systems that restrict its flow in an effort to allow any remaining solids to settle before eventually being pumped into the Belpre sewer system.

Lauer said Ohio EPA is confident in Enviro-Tank’s performance.

“They’re a good company,” she said. “Enviro-Tank has a veteran staff, and this is what they do.”

Lorentz said Belpre wastewater superintendent Mike Betz is satisfied with Enviro-Tank’s efforts and noted water from that site also goes through the city’s treatment process, which includes more organic compound-consuming organisms.