Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said he will continue to look for answers from Freedom Industries about its chemical that spilled into the Elk River Jan. 9, but his chief concern is how to get water to families that need it.
Carper said when Freedom bought the property in December, the company was aware that the plant's retaining culvert intended to catch any spills was "totally inadequate and in disrepair," and Carper said he's been told $1 million was set aside from the purchase transaction to repair the culvert, but the repair never happened.
Carper said shortly after 8 p.m. Jan. 10 there was still a strong chemical odor throughout downtown Charleston.
"(The chemical) is apparently still leaching into the Elk River," Carper said. "They dug a well on the site, and I'm surprised they hadn't told anybody this, but they're pumping this contaminant out of the well."
Carper said he heard from West Virginia American Water its tests show the amount of contamination has gone down since the initial spill was detected,
"Whether or not it's no longer leaching, maybe it's not leaching at the volume it was, I have no idea," Carper said. "I know it still smells."
Carper said for the county's part, officials have requested investigations from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, Environmental Protection Agency and county officials have taken pictures of the containment dam to properly document the situation.
"There's nothing else we can do," Carper said.
His biggest concern?
"The duration of this event," he said. "People have apparently already consumed contaminated water."
Carper said Freedom Industries did not meet the county's reporting requirements for chemical leaks or spills, but he said the county had "other things to deal with."
"When you own a facility that has a dangerous product, you're responsible to control it," Carper said. "This well is something they've done since they discovered the leak; it was done to get the liquid contaminants they suspected were still leaking and leaching into the river."
Carper said he thinks the company owes the people of Kanawha County and surrounding area that have been disrupted, but he said "that's for another time and another problem."
Carper said he was insulted by the media conference hosted by Freedom Industries President Gary Southern.
But Carper wanted to emphasize that DuPont had no involvement in the chemical situation, but has stepped in to provide testing.
"(The chemical) was not designed to dump into a public water system, so because of that, parts per million and parts per billion that you hear about really isn't a simple way to put that into a test tube, swirl it around and hit a litmus test," Carper said.
The two biggest questions Carper said still remain are when the water will be determined safe, and secondly, what will be done after that to safeguard the future?
"I don't know if DEP had ever investigated there before, but we've had odor complaints in the past, but I'm not aware of a significant issue with this particular company," he said. "We have other companies with similar chemicals (in the area) that have had problems in a couple of other places, but nothing of course even comes close to this situation."