News Feature | January 27, 2014

West Virginia Chemical Spill Worse Than Previously Thought

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

The chemical spill in West Virginia is worse than officials previously realized.

Freedom Industries, the company at fault for the spill, knew a second chemical had escaped its plant into the Elk River, but failed to tell government officials until days after the major spill, which prevented thousands of residents from using tap water for days, the Associated Press reported on Saturday.

The company had told its employees about the second chemical in an email, but it failed to tell the government. "And state environmental department official Mike Dorsey said most company employees did not skim far enough into the email to see that information," according to the AP. 

The second chemical in the spill is stripped PPH. The initially-reported spill consisted of "thousands of gallons of crude MCHM," the Washington Post reported. MCHM is short for 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, a toxic combination of coal cleaners. 

Circumstances around the communications breakdown, regarding the second chemical, remain unclear. 

“The explanation I was given was that they had the information on the very first day,” Dorsey said to the AP. “It was in an email that was being shared among company employees, but no one read far enough down the page to see that.”

Here's what is known: "A chemical used to clean coal spilled from the tank into the river Jan. 9. About 300,000 people couldn’t drink or bathe in the water for almost a week. [The company] told environmental officials [last week] that a second, less toxic chemical also was mixed in the tank," the AP reported. 

Officials and locals were “outraged" when they learned about the second chemical, according to the New York Times

“It is very disturbing that we are just now finding out about this new chemical, almost two weeks after the leak,” said West Virginia’s secretary of state, Natalie E. Tennant, in a statement on Wednesday, published in the Times

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should publish the findings from its water tests online, she said. “We must have confidence that the water coming out of our faucets is not going to make our families sick." 

West Virginia's governor has ordered Freedom Industries to remove all 17 of its above-ground storage tanks from the premises, the AP reported in a separate piece. 

For more about the government's influence on the water sector, check out Water Online's Regulations and Legislation Solution Center


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