West Virginia’s Chemical Spill Was Larger Than Previously Reported, Company Reveals

The company responsible for the chemical spill that led to a water ban for 300,000 West Virginians has increased its estimate of how much of the chemicals spilled into the Elk River earlier this month.

Freedom Industries now says about 10,000 gallons of a blend of crude MCHM and PPH leaked from their chemical plant into the Elk River, an increase from a previous estimate of 7,500 gallons and initial government estimates of no more than 5,000 gallons. So far, the company has been able to clean up about 1,272 gallons of the chemical using absorbent booms and other control devices. Freedom Industries made the revision when prompted by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to disclose how the company came up with the initial estimate of 7,500.

DEP officials, however, still say they aren’t sure how much of the chemical spilled into the river.

“We are not making any judgment about [the estimate’s] accuracy,” DEP Cabinet Secretary Randy Huffman said in a statement. “We felt it was important to provide to the public what the company has provided the WVDEP in writing. We are still reviewing the calculation and this is something that will be researched further during the course of this investigation.”
This isn’t the first time Freedom Industries has revised its initial statements about the spill. Last week, 12 days after the spill, the company revealed that a second chemical — a mix of glycol ethers called PPH which, like crude MCHM, has limited toxicity data — had also leaked from the holding tanks. Originally, Freedom Industries had informed officials that only crude MCHM, a chemical used to clean coal, had spilled.

Though the water ban has been lifted in West Virginia, many residents are still wary about using their tap water. On Monday, Kanawha County started distributing its final round of bottled water, and one resident told the Charleston Gazette that he’s still not drinking or cooking with the water. In the days after the water was deemed safe by officials, chemical-related hospital emissions doubled in Charleston, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also gave West Virginians a scare by saying pregnant women shouldn’t drink any tap water, despite water company assurances that the water was safe. And yesterday, West Virginia Delegate Tiffany Lawrence said using flushed water after the ban was lifted led to an staph infection, and said she “should have known better” than to use the water after seeing the sediment left by it in the sink.

On Monday, West Virginia American Water announced that levels of crude MCHM were “non-detectable” in about 85 percent of the tested water, and that in the areas where the chemical still remains, levels are “only a fraction of the CDC-established 1 ppm health-protective limit.”

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Eric Write head editor and chief at The Pluto Daily