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Chemical tanks ordered removed in West Virginia after spill

Residents line up for water at a water filling station at West Virginia State University, in Institute, West Virginia, January 10, 2014. REU
Residents line up for water at a water filling station at West Virginia State University, in Institute, West Virginia, January 10, 2014. REU

(Reuters) - The company whose storage tank spilled a chemical that tainted the water supply of 300,000 people in West Virginia must begin removing its above-ground storage tanks by March 15, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin ordered on Saturday.

Freedom Industries must dismantle and remove 17 tanks and related equipment at its coal processing plant in Charleston, West Virginia, under Tomblin's directive, part of a consent order signed by the company's president and the state's Department of Environmental Protection.

Tomblin announced the order in a statement posted on the governor's office website on Saturday. Freedom Industries has agreed not to contest the state's jurisdiction in the matter, the governor said.

A January 9 spill of the 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, or crude MCHM, into the Elk River prompted the state to impose a ban on the use of tap water for 300,000 people in the Charleston region. The ban lasted as long as 10 days for some residents.

The spill from a Freedom Industries tank was about a mile upriver from the area's main water plant, West Virginia American Water, a unit of American Water Works Company Inc.

Tomblin declared a state of emergency while the chemical, used in coal processing, was flushed out of the water system.

Three of the 17 tanks at the Freedom Industries facility contained crude MCHM and the chemical PPH, and all three tanks are now empty, according to Tomblin's statement. Material in the remaining 14 tanks contain calcium chloride and glycerin, the statement said.

Freedom Industries, a maker of specialty chemicals, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on January 17.

(Reporting By Kevin Murphy; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and David Gregorio)

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