On Tuesday, federal and state officials learned that an additional chemical not previously identified was present in the tank that leaked into the Elk River earlier this month, contaminating the water supply of hundreds of thousands of West Virginians. According to the WV Gazette, the spilled chemical, crude MCHM, which contains 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, also included a chemical called PPH.
Freedom Industries, the company whose tank leaked chemicals into the Kanawha Valley water system on January 9, told officials that PPH was present in its crude MCHM. On Tuesday night, state officials said they believe the American Water Company’s Elk River plant would have filtered the PPH chemical out of the water during its normal treatment process.
Additional testing is reportedly being done to determine whether the chemical is present in water samples. According to the Gazette, a Freedom Industries data sheet on the new chemical reveals that it can irritate the eyes and skin and is harmful if swallowed. There is no data available on its long-term health effects.
Crude MCHM is made up of 5 chemicals including 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, methyl 4-methylcyclohexanecarboxylate, dimethyl 1,4-cyclohexanedicarboxylate, methanol and 1,4-cyclohexanedimethanol, plus water. But Freedom Industries also added PPH to its mixture.
Mike Dorsey, the director of homeland security and emergency response for the state Department of Environmental Protection told the Gazette that he only learned about the added chemical 12 days after the spill. Dorsey said that Freedom Industries President Gary Southern told him that the chemical was present in the tank at the time of the spill, but that he didn’t realize the company was still adding the chemical.
According to Mr. Southern, the company had, for a time, stopped the practice of adding PPH to its crude MCMH mixture, and he was unaware that the company had resumed adding PPH to the mixture until Tuesday.
When Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin was informed of the new development, he said that Freedom Industries’ behavior was “totally unacceptable.” On Monday, before the information about PPH was revealed, Gov. Tomblin told residents that the choice to start drinking their tap water again is a personal decision, although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared the water safe for use.
“If you do not feel comfortable drinking or cooking with this water, then use bottled water,” Tomblin said during a press conference.
Earlier this week, the Gazette reported that the number of people getting sick as a result of contaminated water had increased. Hospital visits related to chemical exposure had increased significantly since last Thursday, although none of the patients were still in the hospital or were in critical condition, as of Saturday.
“The spill of chemicals into a water supply is a very serious offense that requires a careful investigation of all the facts surrounding the incident,” commented Emmie Paulos, an attorney with the Levin, Papantonio law firm who is involved in the BP oil spill litigation. “There are federal environmental laws in place to protect the public and environment, any violation of these laws could result in prosecution of the culpable party.”
Freedom Industries filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Friday, January 17. The company faced about 25 lawsuits as a result of the spill, which will now be put on hold. The company also faces a federal lawsuit and owes $3.6 million to creditors and more than $2.4 million in unpaid taxes to the Internal Revenue Service, according to the Gazette.