Elk River Leak Included Another Chemical

Charleston Gazette
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 federal officials.

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 chemical.

"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 site.

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 unacceptable."

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 1,4-cyclohexanedimethanol.

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.