1988 tank collapse led to changes in Pa. law - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

1988 tank collapse led to changes in Pa. law

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In 1988, West Virginia had a potential wakeup call to look at the safety of its above-ground storage tanks, but state officials and others ignored it.

On Jan. 2, 1988, a four-million gallon oil storage tank split apart and collapsed at an Ashland Oil Co. oil storage facility on the Monongahela River at Floreffe, Pa. The tank ruptured while being filled to capacity for the first time after it had been dismantled and moved from an Ohio location and reassembled at Floreffe.

The rupture released No. 2 diesel fuel over the tank's containment dikes, across a parking lot on an adjacent property and into an uncapped storm drain that emptied directly into the river.

The tank was just upstream of a dam. The fuel-contaminated water in the river washed over the dam, churning the fuel and making recovery almost impossble.

The slick moved down the Monongahela and Ohio rivers. Water systems that drew water from the Ohio, including Wheeling and Huntington, had to shut down as the spill passed. In Huntington, West Virginia American Water Co. installed a second intake, this one on the Guyandotte River, to keep its water plant open as the spill passed.

Ashland Oil immediately took responsibility for the accident.

When the immediate crisis was past, West Virginia's officials seemed to forget about what had happened. Pennsylvania's didn't. Its lawmakers responded with the Storage Tank and Spill Prevention Act of 1989. The act set out a program for developing and implementing regulations for above-ground and underground storage tanks.

Pennsylvania law requires owner-operators of above-ground storage tanks to, among other things, use certified inspectors for inspections and tank handling activities. The owner-operators also must meet financial responsibility requirements.

Only storage tank installers or inspectors certified by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection may install, modify, remove or inspect storage tanks.

Point Pleasant water contaminated in 1978

Charleston wasn't the first West Virginia community to temporarily lose its water supply to a chemical spill. 

Something similar happened in January 1978 in Point Pleasant, when a Chessie System train derailed, spilling 20,000 gallons of epichlorohydrin and contaminating the city's well field.

The Chessie System, now part of CSX, paid for a new water supply for the city.

And that's one difference between the two incidents. Chessie was a major corporation with deep pockets. By all accounts, Freedom Industries, the source of the MCHM that leaked into the Elk River above the Charleston intake Jan. 9, is not.

John Musgrave, who currently serves as executive director of the West Virginia Lottery, was mayor of Point Pleasant at the time of the spill. He declined to be interviewed for this article.

The Point Pleasant incident was one of several derailments Chessie and CSX would have along the old B&O line along the Ohio River throughout a span of several years. Eventually, CSX improved the track, and derailments there are rare now.