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.


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