US solvent spill contaminates water supply in West Virginia

10 January 2014 18:11 Source:ICIS News

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--West Virginia emergency management officials have warned residents in nine counties around Charleston not to use municipal and county water because of a chemical spill in the Elk River.

According to West Virginia American Water, which supplies the nine-county region around Charleston in south-western West Virginia, the area’s water supply was contaminated by a spill of solvent from Freedom Industries, a specialty chemicals manufacturer located about a mile northeast of Charleston.

Freedom Industries’ facilities are on the east bank of the Elk River, which in turn feeds into the Kanawha River that flows past Charleston, the state capital.

The water company identified the spilled chemical as 4-methyl cyclohexane methanol, which is said to be used to clean mining equipment. The volume spilled was not known.

The chemical is described as a greasy or oily substance that is not water soluble and floats on water surfaces.

The leak apparently began late on Thursday, according to the office of West Virginia governor Earl Tomblin, when the chemical’s characteristic liquorice odour triggered multiple complaints from Charleston residents.

An official at Freedom Industries identified as spokesperson on the matter was not available and could not be reached by telephone.

Sources say that 4-methyl cyclohexane methanol is not particularly toxic but that it should not be ingested. Consequently, West Virginia American Water has ordered its customers in nine counties to not use their water for any human contact purposes, such as drinking, cooking, cleaning, bathing or washing. The company said that contaminated water also should not be boiled.

The governor’s office said that officials of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection were on the scene at Freedom Industries but have yet to make a determination on when water supplies will be safe to use.

The White House has granted the governor’s request for a federal declaration of emergency for the nine-county area, which will make federal government resources available to the state in dealing with the spill.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said that is monitoring the situation at Charleston and is working closely with federal emergency management officials in responding to the incident.

EPA spokeswoman Alisha Johnson said that EPA has deployed on-scene co-ordinators to assist with water sampling.

DuPont Company technicians are providing laboratory testing and other support to West Virginia officials, according to DuPont spokeswoman Lisa Randall. She said that there is no relationship between DuPont and Freedom Industries.

Charleston is about 350 miles (560 km) southwest of Washington, DC.

By Joe Kamalick