In the days following the leak of 75,000 gallons of a coal industry chemical into West Virginia's Elk River, much was made of how little the now-bankrupt company responsible, Freedom Industries, or any regulatory agencies knew about the properties of crude MCHM the chemical that tainted the water supply across nine counties.
Even after the water had been declared safe, health officials suggested that pregnant women stick to bottled water, leading everyone else to wonder whether they were still at risk. At a press conference this past Monday, West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin told the 300,000 people affected that they had to decide for themselves whether they wanted to trust the water supply.
And Freedom Industries has just given them a new reason not to. Twelve full days after the spill was discovered, the company has revealed that a second, previously undisclosed chemical was also in the mix. The company told investigators that about 300 gallons of PPH had been added to the tank containing the MCHM, the Charleston Gazette reported Tuesday night; it's unknown how much leaked from the tank or made it to the river:
Mike Dorsey, director of homeland security and emergency response for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said he learned about the additional chemical's presence in the tank that leaked at about 10 a.m., just before a routine daily meeting with various agencies and Freedom Industries about the situation at the site.
Dorsey said Freedom Industries President Gary Southern asked to speak with him privately, told him about the chemical being in the tank, and handed him data sheets on the material, which Dorsey referred to as polyglycol ethers.
"He said, 'I'm going to have a terrible day today,'" Dorsey said.
Little is known about this second chemical, either: it's believed to be "less lethal" than crude MCHM, and is believed to irritate the eyes and skin and be harmful if swallowed.
State officials say that the water treatment process meant to remove the MCHM probably took care of the PPH as well, but they'll be going back and retesting the water for it.