US chemical spill contaminates water supplies


Households and businesses in parts of the area affected by a massive chemical spill in West Virginia, US, are beginning to return to normal after being without potable water for several days.

On 9 January, a large quantity of (4-methylcyclohexyl)methanol (MCHM) leaked from a tank at a Freedom Industries storage site near Charleston. According to the state Department of Environment Protection (WVDEP), the secondary containment facility around the tank failed, and the chemical escaped into the Elk river, contaminating water supplies for an area of 3000 square miles.

The irritant and potentially toxic nature of MCHM, which is used as a frothing agent for cleaning coal, rendered water supplies unusable for anything but flushing toilets until levels remain below 1ppm for at least 24 hours. This condition has already been met in parts of the affected area, and homes and businesses have been allowed to begin using their water again after flushing their systems. In the meantime, authorities are bringing in fresh water for residents.

Freedom Industries has already emptied three more MCHM tanks at the site, and has been ordered by the WVDEP to cease operations and remove the contents of a further 11 above-ground tanks to alternative facilities with appropriate secondary containment until it can prove the Charleston site is sound and has made arrangements to remediate contamination to soil and groundwater.


Related Content

Investigators find cause of West Virginia chemical spill

24 July 2014 Business

news image

Holes in uninspected storage tanks led to leak that contaminated water supplies

Chemistry World podcast - May 2013

2 May 2013 Podcast | Monthly

news image

Robert Lovitt tells us about algae biotechnology, Patrick Holland discusses nitrogen fixing chemistry and the team cover the ...

Most Read

Antimicrobial resistance will kill 300 million by 2050 without action

16 December 2014 News and Analysis

news image

UK report says resistance will cost global economy $100 trillion

Cutting edge chemistry in 2014

10 December 2014 Research

news image

We take a look back at the year's most interesting chemical science stories

Most Commented

A bad business

19 December 2014 Critical Point

news image

Targets and assessments can boost productivity at universities – but only if they do not stifle creativity and alienate the...

Chemistry behind the ‘blue man’ unlocked

1 November 2012 Research

news image

Biochemical model suggests that silver ions, not nanoparticles, cause a rare skin complaint