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Who’s Regulating Who? Allied Terminals Tank Spill Sparks Discussion on Tank Regulations

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The U.S. Chemical Safety Board held a news conference Wednesday to release its final report on the Nov. 12 tank collapse at Allied Terminals. They concluded that the collapse of a liquid fertilizer tank along the Elizabeth River was the perfect example why the inspection and maintenance of above-ground fertilizer tanks should be regulated by the state. The safety board concluded that the spill was caused defective welding on Allied Terminals’ Tank 201, which caused more than 2 million gallons of liquid fertilizer to spill out. Additionally, two contractors were injured while performing welding work on the tank.

The federal agency also faulted Allied Terminals for failing to ensure that the welds on Tank 201 met industry quality standards, not performing post-welding inspections on the tank, and directing contractors to seal leaking rivets while the tank was being filled to its maximum level for the first time. Chesapeake city officials said they intend to pursue state laws that will authorize them to regulate large fertilizer storage tanks along the Elizabeth River’s Southern Branch.

Seventeen states currently have regulatory programs relating to the storage of liquid fertilizer in above-ground tanks. Delegate John Cosgrove (R – Chesapeake) thinks Chesapeake should follow their lead. "I think it’s probably something that needs to be done." He then added that inspection fees could pay any program costs. "We have to look at the seriousness of what happened there. We have to look at the safety of the people around the tanks."

So what about the safety of the people who live around the tanks? What’s being done for them? Several residents who attended Wednesday’s news conference were upset about what they called the city’s lack of progress. Allied is paying the cleanup bill, which is already in the millions of dollars, but it is an ongoing process. About 200,000 gallons of liquid fertilizer has not been recovered, and may have flowed into the Elizabeth River. State environmental officials discovered high amounts of nitrate and ammonia in parts of the Elizabeth River after the collapse, but those amounts returned to pre-spill levels by March, according to DEQ tests.

U. S. officials have done water monitoring at two private wells, which showed no impact to drinking water. Allied also has done air monitoring at one residential property; they were originally concerned about people being exposed to ammonia vapors, but officials say that is not a concern anymore.

In the meantime, long-time South Hill resident Edora Mitchell waits for her now brown yard to be green again, and for the ditches near her home to be cleared of the liquid fertilizer. I know how toxic chemicals can affect a person’s well-being. I’ve seen it happen, many times. For now it’s a game of wait-and-see to determine if Chesapeake and Virginia will make the right decision.

About the Editors: Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm (VA-NC law offices ) edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard, as well as the Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as a pro bono service to consumers. Lawyers licensed in: VA, NC, SC, WV, DC, KY, who handle car, truck, railroad, and medical negligence cases and more.

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  1. Mike Bryant says:
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    This kind of thing is so important and the lack of real supervision is so scary, thanks for the information.