Elk River Leak Included Another Chemical
21 January 2014
By Ken Ward Jr.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Federal and state investigators learned
Tuesday that an additional chemical that wasn't previously
identified was in the tank that leaked Jan. 9 at the Freedom
Industries tank farm, just upstream from West Virginia American
Water's regional drinking water intake.
The company told investigators that the Crude MCHM that leaked
also contained a product called "PPH," according to state and
State officials said late Tuesday that, after consulting with West
Virginia American Water Co., they believe the water company's Elk
River plant would likely have removed the chemical from drinking
water during its normal treatment process. Additional testing of
some of the original water samples from the first days after the
incident is being conducted to confirm that, officials said.
"We have to go back and confirm things and make sure we're doing
our due diligence for public health," said Gen. James Hoyer of the
West Virginia National Guard, who has a team that's been heading
water testing efforts following the leak.
Laura Jordan, spokeswoman for West Virginia American Water, said
Tuesday night that the company "described in detail our water
treatment process with state chemical experts, who ascertained
that our current treatment process would likely have removed this
"We are also testing water samples collected last week to further
confirm this and will share those results when available," Jordan
said in an emailed statement.
Amy Goodwin, spokeswoman for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, said state
public health officials had contacted the U.S. Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention earlier in the day for assistance in
understanding the chemical's potential health effects but had not
heard back from the CDC as of Tuesday evening.
A Freedom Industries data sheet on the chemical says it can
irritate the eyes and skin and is harmful if swallowed. The sheet
lists the material as less lethal than Crude MCHM but also says no
data are available on its long-term health effects.
Mike Dorsey, director of homeland security and emergency response
for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said he
learned about the additional chemical's presence in the tank that
leaked at about 10 a.m., just before a routine daily meeting with
various agencies and Freedom Industries about the situation at the
Dorsey said Freedom Industries President Gary Southern asked to
speak with him privately, told him about the chemical being in the
tank, and handed him data sheets on the material, which Dorsey
referred to as polyglycol ethers.
"He said, 'I'm going to have a terrible day today," Dorsey said.
Dorsey said Southern told him the company previously had been
adding the PPH to its Crude MCHM mixture and had stopped doing so.
Southern said he didn't realize that the company had resumed
adding the PPH to the mixture, Dorsey said.
Dorsey said there were about 300 gallons of PPH in the tank that
leaked. It's not clear how much of that material leaked out of the
tank or how much reached the river.
Dorsey said he was "extremely disappointed" to be learning only
Tuesday -- 12 days after the leak -- about the presence of PPH in
the tank that leaked.
Goodwin said that when Tomblin was told of the new information,
the governor said that company's behavior was "totally
Crude MCHM is a coal-cleaning chemical made by Eastman Chemicals
Co. It is stored and sold by Freedom Industries out of its
facility just north of downtown Charleston.
While some reports have used the term "Crude MCHM" and the
chemical "4-methylcyclohexanemethanol" interchangeably, the 4-MCHM
is actually only one of seven components of Crude MCHM.
Eastman Chemical's material safety data sheet, or MSDS, says the
chemical 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol makes up 68 to 89 percent of
Crude MCHM. The Eastman MSDS also shows that Crude MCHM includes
six other ingredients: 4-(methoxymethyl)cyclohexanemethanol,
water, methyl 4-methylcyclohexanecarboxylate, dimethyl
1,4-cyclohexanedicarboxylate, methanol and
The Gazette learned about the presence of an additional chemical
in the Freedom mixture from a source, and then confirmed some of
the information with the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, which is
investigating the leak.
Later on Tuesday evening, the Tomblin administration made a team
of state officials available to provide additional details.
Daniel Horowitz, managing director of the CSB, said, "we were told
about another component in the mixture that had been added to the
Crude MCHM, a product called 'PPH' consisting of polyglycol
ethers, at about 5.6 percent."
Horowitz said that according to an MSDS provided by Freedom
Industries, the additional product "has low oral toxicity."
"We are reviewing the information now and [the CSB] team may
further comment," Horowitz said.
Later, Horowitz said that the CSB's information came from the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency and referred calls to EPA.
Officials from EPA did not respond to requests for comment.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.