CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A water research expert told state lawmakers Friday it’s possible crude MCHM may have been leaking into the Elk River for several hours before it was discovered.

Dr. Paul Ziemkiewicz, the director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute at WVU, testified before a House-Senate joint committee that is investigating the water emergency that’s impacted up to 300,000 residents in nine counties.

Ziemkiewicz has taken the information known about the tank owned by Freedom Industries, the hole in the tank and the leak of approximately 7,500 gallons to come up with how long the leak may have occurred.

“You could presumably drain that amount of material out of a tank like that over 15 hours,” he said.

Ziemkiewicz echoed what other researchers have said about the lack of research data on crude HCHM but he has reached a few conclusions. He said the leaked chemical likely hugged the bank of the Elk River as it moved toward the West Virginia American Water Company Kanawha Valley Water Plant.

“Both Freedom Industries and the water intake are on the same side of the river. So you’re going to have a tendency for that water to follow the bank for some distance before it disperses,” Ziemkiewicz said.

WVAWC first learned about the leak about mid-morning on Jan. 9 and at first its filtration system was able to handle the spill but a few hours later it became overloaded and the Do Not Use order was put into effect for the nine county system.

Ziemkiewicz said the leak didn’t have to take place. He said prevention is the best cure.

“The long and short of it is that this wouldn’t have been a problem if appropriate secondary containment was installed on the site,” he said.

The Joint Legislative Oversight Commission on Water Resources is scheduled to have more hearings in the coming weeks.

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