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Water West Virginia chemical spill

Published on January 22nd, 2014 | by Tina Casey

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12 Days After West Virginia Chemical Spill, Company Admits To Another Chemical

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January 22nd, 2014 by  

Yep, you read that right. Almost two weeks after a storage tank was discovered to be leaking 7,500 gallons of the coal-washing chemical Crude MCHM into the Elk River/water supply for nine counties in West Virginia, company officials finally disclosed yesterday that 300 gallons of another chemical, “PPH, stripped,” was also part of the brew.

The news was reported yesterday evening in the West Virginia Gazette, so let’s turn to reporter Ken Ward, Jr. (@Kenwardjr) for more on that.

West Virginia chemical spill

West Virginia chemical spill (cropped) by WV Vivian.

The West Virginia Chemical Spill

To recap briefly, the West Virginia chemical spill was detected on January 9 at a storage facility owned by a company called Freedom Industries, which has since declared bankruptcy.

The site is on the banks of the Elk River, less than two miles upriver from intakes for the private water company West Virginia American, which serves nine counties with a population of 300,000 people. By the time the leak was locked down, contaminated water had entered the service territory.

An alert went out to use the water for nothing but flushing toilets. Along with the affected residents, the water crisis shut down hundreds of businesses, schools and other institutions.

Days after the spill, residents were finally told that the system had been flushed out and the water was safe to drink, but a subsequent increase in chemical-related symptoms strongly suggests that dangerous levels of Crude MCHM — or perhaps something else — were still present.

Yet Another Chemical Revealed

According to yesterday’s Gazette report by Ward, state and federal investigators only learned about the presence of PPH yesterday, from company officials.

The full article is well worth a read, especially for the detail it provides on both Crude MCHM and PPH, which is a known skin and eye irritant.

In what almost sounds like a cloak-and-dagger scenario, Ward reports that the information was disclosed privately to state DEP official Mike Dorsey by Gary Southern, the president of Freedom Industries, in advance of yesterday’s daily situational meeting between agencies and company officials.

Preliminary information from West Virginia American and state officials indicates that PPH would have been stripped out by its water treatment process before entering the distribution system, but that assessment will have to be confirmed by additional tests.


It also raises the question of what other shoes Freedom Industries has left to drop.

“Clean Coal” And The West Virginia Chemical Spill

We noted in a previous article that the West Virginia chemical spill undermines the “clean coal” image that the coal industry has worked so assiduously to cultivate, and a comment on a repost of that article just drew our attention to another angle.

Although it’s natural to assume that the clean coal campaign is linked to electric power generation, according to our commenter Crude MCHM is used to prepare coal for another key sector, the steelmaking industry.

The steel industry has its own house to get in order in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, so that hardly lets the coal mining industry off the hook.

Not to get ahead of ourselves, but while searching the Tubes for information on “PPH, stripped,” we came across a patent application that describes a new chemical compound to be used in hydraulic fracturing (yes, that fracking), which contains “propylene glycol phenyl ether (PPH).”

We’ll try to nail that down in another post but meanwhile, if you have any more information on that feel free to leave a comment in the thread below.

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About the Author

Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.



  • Karen Sherry Brackett

    Good article by Tina Casey. Interesting notes on PPH use in steel and fracturing as well. In addition, Dow’s lack of information on the levels of exposure in measurements is concerning and rather vague. What in Dow’s opinion is a “small amount” and a “large amount” for “if swallowed”???? This type of information is what is known of as “Bad Science”. Not to mention of course that the “may cause injury” is completely void of any information what so ever on the “injury” or injuries possible if swallowed. While this in fairness is more information than 152 “no data available” entries on Eastman’s MSDS for MCHM… it is hardly helpful for any actual medical determination.

    • Burnerjack

      Our EPA at work…

  • Karla Hickey

    http://www.wvgazette.com/News/201310020018 This is the second chemical leak in 3 months. Notice the word TOXIC?

    • Burnerjack

      Its OK. It probably won’t enter the food supply of the rich… THEIR children are probably unneffected.

  • Matt

    Profits are private. But you have a big mess-up, because of a loop hole you helped create; then declare bankruptcy and let the public pay for it. We need to stop constraining these companies so the can make more money. That is the path that letting the 0.1% control our government will get us.

    • Burnerjack

      Mandatory “catastrophic event” insurance is in order here. I am mandated to have motor vehicle insurance, an amusement ride provider has to have a mandatory $1 million insurance policy in my state. Why not here? “Wink wink, nod nod”. We know why, don’t we? Why hasn’t Bopal, Gujarat, India been a catalyst for reform? Just like the fallout of “The Great Train Robbery” that just transpired in 2009, Financial penalties heaped upon the stockholders, as opposed to criminal proceedings resulting in prison terms (in real prisons, not Club Fed) do little if anything to curb malfeasance.

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