Environment

Another MCHM spill reported at West Virginia's Freedom Industries

Spokesman for state environmental agency says cleanup crews at site of previous spill severed pipe, leaking more MCHM

Freedom Industries on Barlow St on the banks of the Elk River is seen on Jan. 10 in Charleston, W.Va.
Tom Hindman/Getty Images

A subsequent MCHM chemical spill has been reported at Freedom Industries in West Virginia, local media sources said Friday, but state officials have said that the leak was contained before reaching the Elk River, sparing the already weary downstream residents. Test results from water samples taken from area schools, however, showed the continued presence of the chemical in five schools.

A spokesman for a West Virginia environmental agency said cleanup crews at the site of the previous chemical spill severed an underground pipe Thursday night. The pipe contained water and crude MCHM — the same chemical that contaminated the Elk River earlier this month.

An excavator ripped into the pipe, but officials said the MCHM was caught in a cutoff trench and did not reach the Elk River, local Charleston news station WCHS ABC 8 reported. MCHM is a chemical used to process coal — a major industry in the state.

The Department of Environmental Protection called it a "small amount," but declined to say how much was spilled. The spill was said to have "slowed to a trickle."

A Jan. 9 spill of 10,000 gallons of crude MCHM that reached the Elk River tainted the water supply of 300,000 residents in nine counties for days, triggering a state of emergency and a water ban. The ban was lifted last week, but many residents continued to complain of illness and were treated at area hospitals. Many also refuse to drink the water despite the lifting of the ban.

As part of ongoing tests of the drinking water in the area, the state's Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Friday released the results of tests on water samples taken at 94 schools in five counties.

The tests, conducted Tuesday and Wednesday, showed that the presence of the chemical remains in five schools more than two weeks after the initial spill.

According to Lawrence Messina, communications director for the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, the five schools will undergo another round of flushing following the water tests.

"It is important for students, parents and educators to understand that the five schools highlighted by the most recent round of testing were well below the U.S. Centers for Disease Controls (CDC) recommended level, but were not yet at the more stringent screening level that the interagency team was directed to achieve beyond the CDC guidelines," said West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Jim Phares.

The second round of flushing is expected to result in a undetectable level, below 10 parts per billion, which is 100 times more rigorous than the 1 part per million screening level required by the CDC for public health safety.

On Thursday, West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin requested that West Virginia American Water, the state's largest privately held water utility, offer more bottled water, since the state has spent nearly $890,000 on more than 17.5 million bottles of water.

"Immediately following West Virginia American Water's DO NOT USE order on Jan. 9, I began working ... to provide water and supplies to impacted citizens," Gov. Tomblin said in a press release.

"While the DO NOT USE order has been lifted, we continue to receive calls from constituents and organizations requesting water be made available to their communities. To address this need, I have asked West Virginia American Water Company to make available portable and bottled water."

Al Jazeera and wire services

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