Paint 'Geyser' Raises River Fear


A broken sewer line spewed yellow paint into West Virginia's Elk River, touching off fears of a chemical leak in the area.

The paint was "emerging as a geyser a few feet tall" and was called in to 911 before noon Friday (Nov. 14), the Charleston Gazette reported. The leak continued until about 1:20 p.m.

Workers across the street at a paint shop for the City of Charleston were washing out a line painting truck, and the paint happened to be in the sewer system when a pipe ruptured, Mike Dorsey, chief of homeland security for the state's Department of Environmental Protection, told the Gazette.

When the yellow sheen appeared, it heightened fears of a catastrophe reminiscent of January's chemical leak in the Elk River, which left 300,000 residents without access to potable water.

The paint was about a mile downriver from the area where the coal-cleaning chemical 4-Methylclohexane Methanol leaked from Freedom Industries' 40,000-gallon tank.

Allowable Discharge

Charleston Fire Department Assistant Fire Chief Rich Simmons told that everyone is "hyper aware of the situation that happened in January.

"We do not want to repeat that, so you're going to get a good response when anybody reports anything in the Elk River. You're going to get a quick response to this."

According to Dorsey, the water-based paint is allowable in the sewer system, but "[i]t's just not supposed to be in the river."

"They were allowed to discharge that stuff into the sewer, but the sewer line broke," Dorsey said. "Therein lies the problem."

About three to fives gallons of paint were discharged, the city estimated.

Richard Hackney, DEP inspector, said that while the paint and the sewer rupture may seem related, they are not.

Plant Restarted

West Virginia American Water shut down its Elk River treatment plant right after the spill was reported, but testing showed no change in water quality and no water use restrictions were put into effect.

West Virginia American Water
Screen grab via

The paint came from the city's paint shop, which has been washing out a line-painting truck.

The utility posted on its Facebook page that water quality experts and the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health reviewed the MSDS sheet for the paint and "determined that it did not pose a threat to the system or its customers based on the nature of the product, the dilution of a small quantity of the product and the plant's treatment process."

The plant was restarted and the treatment process was augmented with additional powdered activated carbon, the company said.

Isolated Line

The busted sewer line was a "force main river crossing" believed to be six to eight inches in diameter, Mark Justice from the Charleston Sanitary Board told the Gazette.

Officials from the DEP and the sanitary board said they isolated the broken line and used tanker trucks to divert sewage.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Containment; Environmental Controls; Environmental Controls; North America

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