State: 2nd chemical entered water in W.Va. spill

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 22, 2014 at 6:05 pm •  Published: January 22, 2014
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A second chemical was released during a spill that contaminated the water supply for 300,000 West Virginians, state officials said Wednesday, though the newly identified substance appears to be less toxic than the coal-cleaning agent already known to have leaked.

State officials sharply criticized the company at the center of the Jan. 9 spill for failing to report the presence of the second chemical and ordered them to disclose everything that leaked into the Elk River from their storage tank by 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Freedom Industries responded by the afternoon that only those two chemicals, which are sometimes paired during coal processing, seeped into the river.

"Having to order them to provide such obvious information is indicative of the continued decline of their credibility," said Randy Huffman, secretary of the state's Department of Environmental Protection.

Freedom Industries didn't report until Tuesday that a mixture of polyglycol ethers, or PPH, also entered the water system when the spill occurred.

"Very disappointing," Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said at a Wednesday press conference. "Once again, It's another one of those chemicals that very few people know anything about."

Separately, the company didn't list PPH as part of its latest hazardous chemicals inventory for the Charleston facility filed in February 2013. The form only requires companies to list chemicals deemed hazardous in quantities of 10,000 pounds or more. This chemical isn't regulated as a hazardous material, said Mike Dorsey, chief of the state environmental agency's homeland security and emergency response division.

Freedom Industries President Gary Southern pulled aside Dorsey on Tuesday morning, said he expected "to have a terrible day," and told the official about the second chemical. Southern told environmental officials he thought his company stopped using the chemical additive, Huffman said.

Dorsey said PPH is another coal-cleaning chemical. It is used as an "extender" for the other chemical, which is only available in "limited, sporadic quantities," Freedom Industries wrote in its response to the state environmental agency.

Freedom Industries said Wednesday afternoon that PPH concentration represented about 7.3 percent of what was in the tank that leaked, an increase of about 2 percentage points from a previous figure they'd given. The company has said 300 gallons of PPH were in the tank.

State officials are working with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other experts to test samples and ensure the water supply is safe, the bureau said.

Tests done right after officials lifted a ban on using tap water didn't detect PPH, said Amy Shuler Goodwin, a spokeswoman for the governor.