WV Chemical Spill Worse than Thought

Tuesday, January 28, 2014 @ 02:01 PM gHale

The chemical spill in West Virginia’s Elk River that left over 300,000 unable to use tap water, involved more chemicals and gallons of chemicals than previously reported, officials said.

Freedom Industries, which owned the tank that leaked into a river supplying water in the state, now said 10,000 gallons of the chemicals 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (also known as MCHM) and PPH released. While officials admitted MCHM leaked, but it just came out with the details about the additional chemical polyglycol ethers (PPH). PPH’s toxicity remains limited, but the Center for Disease Control’s statement said it appears to be lower than that of the primary chemical leaked in the spill.

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The company initially said 7,500 gallons spilled, and failed to disclose the presence of the second chemical until last week. The leak, first reported Jan. 9, left 300,000 people in the capital region without access to tap water for days. Though officials lifted the formal advisory on the water, some in the region said they still have concerns about the safety of their water.

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) gave Freedom Industries’ newest estimate, but said, “It is not known how much material spilled into the Elk River and shut down the drinking water supply for citizens across nine West Virginia counties.”

“We are not making any judgment about its accuracy,” DEP Secretary Randy Huffman said, referring to the company’s latest spill figure. “We felt it was important to provide to the public what the company has provided the WVDEP in writing. We are still reviewing the calculation, and this is something that will be researched further during the course of this investigation.”

“This is the first calculation that has been provided concerning the amount of materials that spilled on Jan. 9,” Huffman said. “This new calculation does not change any of our protocols in dealing with this spill, nor does it affect the ongoing remediation efforts. Our actions have never been dependent on what Freedom has reported to us. From the start, we have acted aggressively to contain the spill and remediate the site.”

Meanwhile, West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin called for the company to tear down the storage facility, and for a full remediation of the site.

The company must begin removing its above-ground storage tanks by March 15, Tomblin said Saturday.

Freedom Industries must dismantle and remove 17 tanks and related equipment at its coal processing plant in Charleston, WV, under Tomblin’s directive, part of a consent order signed by the company’s president and the DEP.

Freedom Industries has agreed not to contest the state’s jurisdiction in the matter, the governor said. Freedom Industries, a maker of specialty chemicals, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on January 17.

The Jan. 9 spill of the 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, or crude MCHM, and, as it turns out PPH, 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 officials flushed the chemical, used in coal processing, 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.

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