Only now does West Virginia firm say second chemical spilled in river

A worker moves a drilling machine around tanks at Freedom Industries' storage facility in Charleston, W.Va.
(Steve Helber / Associated Press)

West Virginia regulators have ordered Freedom Industries to immediately disclose all materials involved in the recent spill that contaminated the water supply of 300,000 people, after the chemical company said there was a second chemical that entered the Elk River.

State regulators sharply criticized the company for failing to report the presence of the second chemical, a mixture of polyglycol ethers, or PPH, and ordered them to disclose everything that leaked into the river. The state gave the company a deadline of 4 p.m. Wednesday to submit the data to inspectors at the plant site.

State officials were not available to comment on whether the requested information had been turned over. A person answering the company’s telephone at Freedom’s Charleston, W.Va., plant said there was no one available to comment on the order.


On Tuesday, the company told the state that about 300 gallons of PPH was among the mixture that leaked from a storage tank Jan. 9 into the river, whose water is processed into drinking water for about 300,000 people in the Charleston area.

The leak from the company’s Elk River Etowah terminal forced the water system to be shut down and flushed, leaving customers without safe water for drinking or washing for days. The main pollutant was Crude MCHM, but regulators said in a statement that they had now been told there was also PPH and that the company never listed PPH as part of the hazardous chemicals at the facility, as required by state code.

“Having this revelation so late in the game is completely unacceptable,” said West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection Cabinet Secretary Randy Huffman. “We have ordered Freedom to reveal any other information they have regarding the contents of the tank that leaked.”

“Having to order them to provide such obvious information is indicative of the continued decline of their credibility,” Huffman said in a statement.

State officials are working with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to test samples and ensure the water supply is safe, the state said. The PPH made up about 5% of the tank’s volume, the CDC said.

Information on PPH’s toxicity is limited, but it appears to be lower than that of MCHM, a coal-cleaning chemical, the CDC said.


“Given the small percentage of PPH in the tank and information suggesting similar water solubility as MCHM, it is likely that any amount of PPH currently in the water system would be extremely low,” the agency said.

On Tuesday, Freedom Industries reached a deal in Bankruptcy Court for up to $4 million in credit from a lender to help continue operations. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Friday, freezing dozens of lawsuits against the company. Many are by local businesses owners who say they lost money during the water-use ban.

State and federal investigations into the spill are continuing.


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