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Chemical that fouled W.Va. water lands at Rosebud coal facility in Armstrong County

| Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014, 11:24 p.m.

Nobody told Pennsylvania regulators or public safety officials, but about 3,500 gallons of a chemical that fouled drinking water for 300,000 people in West Virginia last month landed at a coal processing plant in Armstrong County on Tuesday.

Environmental officials scrambled on the day after to pinpoint the destination of a shipment of crude MCHM, which is not subject to government tracking or monitoring. Inquiries mounted after officials in West Virginia announced the chemical was moved to a “coal facility in Pennsylvania.”

John Poister, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection's Southwest Regional spokesman, said officials with Rosebud Mining Co. confirmed that the MCHM, a coal-washing chemical used widely in the industry, was transported to its Dutch Run facility, near Elderton.

Authorities are still investigating how about 7,000 gallons of MCHM leaked from a Freedom Industries tank near Charleston, W.Va., into the Elk River near a public water intake area on Jan. 9. The leak prompted officials to order residents of nine counties to refrain from using the water for drinking or bathing for several days and sent hundreds of people to emergency rooms complaining of rashes and flu-like symptoms.

Freedom Industries moved the compound from the accident site to a tank near Nitro, W.Va., then moved it again when West Virginia regulators deemed the Nitro facility insufficient.

Freedom's parent company is owned by J. Clifford Forrest, who runs Rosebud Mining Co. in Kittanning. Officials at Rosebud did not return calls for comment on Thursday, but Poister said they told state regulators that Rosebud uses MCHM at its McVille coal preparation facility in South Buffalo and at the Dutch Run plant.

David J. Bayless, director of the Ohio Coal Research Center at Ohio University, said MCHM, an organic solvent that is not subject to regulation as a toxic substance, has been used in coal cleaning for at least 15 years. A process known as froth flotation uses the compound, which has a strong licorice-like odor, to remove impurities from coal and provide a cleaner-burning product for power plants.

Although there are no regulations requiring companies to notify environmental regulators that they are transporting or using the chemical, Poister said, Pennsylvania has a well-established program for the oversight of storage containers and that Rosebud is in compliance.

“They have a complete spill and protection control plan in place. It is on file with us and must be updated annually. They have not had any leaks of any type or spills at that facility,” he said, adding that Rosebud's plan is to store MCHM at Dutch Run in tanks with a capacity of “several thousand gallons.”

Armstrong County Public Safety Director Randy Brozenick, the fire chief in South Buffalo, said he was not notified of the shipment of MCHM to any facilities inside the county.

Brozenick said first responders should know what types of chemicals could be present should they have to respond to an incident. Armstrong County does not have its own hazardous material response team. It contracts with McCutcheon Enterprises in Apollo for hazmat services.

“It would be kind of nice to know what's going on. It would be nice to know what they are going to put in the county, so if they have any issues, we know how to deal with it,” Brozenick said. “If they are going to bring it to our county, we want to know where they are going to be storing it and how safe are they.”

Debra Erdley and Aaron Aupperlee are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Erdley can be reached at 412-320-7996 or derdley@tribweb.com. Aupperlee can be reached at 412-320-7986 or aaupperlee@tribweb.com.

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