Not one, but two toxic chemicals leaked into West Virginia's Elk River, poisoning the drinking water for more than 300,000 West Virginia residents earlier this month, according to news reports. Freedom Industries, which owns the storage tank that ruptured and leaked a chemical coal-cleaner into the waterway, told federal officials this week that a second chemical, also used in coal processing, went into the river, the Charleston Gazette reported Tuesday.
Freedom Industries had previously maintained that only one substance, 4-methylcyclohexane, or MCHM, was in the storage tank when it sprung a leak. On Tuesday, company president Gary Southern told Homeland Security chief Michael Dorsey, who oversees emergency response and the Environmental Protection Agency, that a similar mixture known as PPH actually made up about 7 percent of the leak.
"It is very disturbing that we are just now finding out about this new chemical, almost two weeks after the leak," West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant said in a statement. "We must have confidence that the water coming out of our faucets is not going to make our families sick."
State officials ordered the company Wednesday to disclose all the chemicals that were in the ruptured storage tank.
"Our records and internal investigation indicate that there were no other materials" other than MCHM and PPH, Freedom Industries said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted an update to its website Wednesday, stating that while "the water system has not been tested for" PPH and "toxicologic information about PPH is limited," the "toxicity of this material appears to be lower than the toxicity of MCHM."
"It is likely that any amount of PPH currently in the water system would be extremely low… An initial review of the currently available toxicologic information does not suggest any new health concerns associated with the release of PPH," the CDC said.
About 7,500 gallons of the two chemicals went into the Elk River on Jan. 9, about a mile upstream from a water-treatment plant. After noticing a licorice-type odor coming from the water, West Virginia officials instituted a ban for nine counties for more than a week, prohibiting businesses and residents from drinking or washing with the water.
At least 22 lawsuits have since been filed against Freedom Industries. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last week. It claims the leak was the result of a broken water main, which it says burst and punctured a hole in the side of the storage tank.
Exposure to the chemical can cause nausea, vomiting, wheezing and skin irritation. Since the spill, more than 400 residents have been treated at 10 hospitals for symptoms related to exposure, the Charleston Gazette reported.