Cleanup continues two weeks after chemical leak

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — More than two weeks after a chemical leak on the Elk River that fouled the water supply for 300,000 West Virginians, state officials said they’re now focused on long-term remediation efforts at the leak site, a tank farm for Freedom Industries in Charleston.

“We are at the point now where we are working with the consultant on how to remediate this material over the long term,” said Mike Dorsey, chief of homeland security and emergency response for the state Department of Environmental Protection.

“Step one’s going to always be (to) maintain the water, control the water on site so that nothing else washes into the river and, as we can remove things from the site, do so and get out any materials which may be trapped in the clay up top.”

Dorsey said an estimated 7,500 gallons of a chemical mixture, a combination of crude MCHM and stripped PPH, leaked into the Elk River on Jan. 9 and traveled downstream to the water intake for the Kanawha Valley Water Treatment Plant.

Officials with West Virginia American Water Company issued a do-not-use water order that lasted for days in parts of nine West Virginia counties as teams made up of those with WVAW, the state Bureau of Public Health and the West Virginia National Guard tested tap water for MCHM levels.

It was this past Tuesday, though, more than four days after the last do-not-use water order was lifted, before officials with Freedom Industries notified the state of the presence of a second chemical, the stripped PPH.  Gary Southern, company president, informed Dorsey after a Tuesday meeting.

“There’s an explanation, whether or not it’s reasonable is debatable,” said Dorsey of the 12 day delay before the PPH notification.  “The explanation I was given was that they had the information on the very first day.  It was in an e-mail that was being shared among company employees, but no one read far enough down the page to see that.”

The revelation prompted more testing of water samples taken throughout the Kanawha Valley distribution system since the leak.  Confirmation came Wednesday from state officials that there were “no detectable levels” of PPH in the water supply.

“While the material does appear to be less toxic than the MCHM, that kind of revelation, this far into the process, is just unheard of,” said Dorsey on Thursday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

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