Company Responsible for West Virginia Chemical Spill Failed to Mention Presence of 2nd ChemicalJan 24, 2014
State officials report that Freedom Industries, the company responsible for the recent chemical spill in Elk River, failed to disclose the presence of a second chemical. Previously, Freedom said that only MCHM had spilled out of one of its storage tanks. MCHM is a substance that is normally used to wash coal; upon exposure it can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, skin irritation and other health problems.
According to Reuters, Freedom is now saying that there was a second chemical in the tank. On Tuesday, the Department of Environmental Protection was told that PPH, or polyglycol ethers, was also in the tank. Even though there was an immediate order after the spill to disclose exactly what had leaked, Freedom waited 12 days to mention that another chemical was in the tank. The department said that Freedom violated state code by failing to accurately report what chemicals were present and their amounts.
Authorities have taken issue with how Freedom has handled the situation. Governor Earl Ray Tomblin said he was “very disappointed” that it took that long for Freedom to come clean. Tomblin also pointed out that, like MCHM, not much is known about the long-term health effects of PPH. "You know, once again it's another one of those chemicals that very few people knew anything about," Tomblin said at a news conference.
The leaked tank contained about 88.5 percent MCHM, 7.3 percent PPH, and the rest water, wrote Freedom Industries President Gary Southern.
Some 300,000 people in West Virginia were left without tap water when the storage tank leaked into the Elk River on January 9th. Residents across nine counties were told not to drink, bathe or even wash clothes in the contaminated water. A dozen people have been hospitalized thus far because of the tainted tap water. Freedom has since filed for bankruptcy.
The spill led many to question regulatory oversight. Apparently, gaps in regulation had allowed the spill site to go uninspected since 1991. The EPA itself has little jurisdiction over the facility because it was an above-ground storage site. Several years ago, a federal agency had urged the state to employ stricter regulations about chemical accidents. Unfortunately, this proposal was ignored.
Residents and business owners are pursuing litigation over the water contamination that has left thousands in fear. Parker Waichman LLP, a national personal injury law firm, has filed two class action lawsuits on behalf of residents and businesses. Those affected by the spill are advised to seek legal counsel.