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Spill company eyes voluntary cleanup program

CHARLESTON (AP) — Freedom Industries is considering trying to enter a state program to help ease cleanup at the site where a chemical spill polluted the Charleston area’s water supply.

The company and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection met last week to discuss whether the site is eligible for the agency’s Voluntary Remediation Program.

The Charleston Gazette reports that the move that could result in Freedom having to meet less-stringent contamination standards than under existing enforcement orders.

No decisions have been made and the company has not yet submitted a formal application for the program.

Agency officials said they will pay careful attention to any from Freedom because of the facility’s proximity to the region’s drinking-water intake. They also said the company’s entry into the program would not change agency Secretary Randy Huffman’s promise that the site will be remediated “until there is a 100-percent certainty that the risk of this stuff getting back in the water has been eliminated, not just minimized.”

“They will still have to show that they are not going to have chemicals going into the Elk River,” said Patty Hickman, interim director of the division that runs the voluntary industrial site cleanup program.

Under the existing enforcement orders, Hickman said Freedom likely would have to clean up the Elk River site to the point where none of the coal-cleaning agent can be detected in soil left at the location. Under the voluntary program, the cleanup standard would depend on what sort of potential for human exposure exists based on the planned future use of the land.

While Freedom is still considering its options, Mark Welch, its chief restructuring officer, said the voluntary program could benefit the company because all parties “would agree to enter into the plan and agree to the standards,” rather than having cleanup details mandated by the state.

The Freedom Industries spill contaminated the drinking water supply for 300,000 people for days.

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