WV Elk River Chem Spill Far Worse Than Previously Reported
A state of emergency remains in effect along West Virginia’s Elk River as over 300,000 residents remain without water for drinking or bathing:
[S]tate environmental officials are now estimating that as much as 7,500 gallons of a chemical used to process coal — Crude MGHM — may have spilled into the Elk River. That number is a substantial increase from early estimates of 2,000 to 5,000 gallons.
The chemical leak, first reported Thursday, was at a facility owned by Freedom Industries along the Elk River, just 1.5 miles upstream from a major intake used by the largest water utility in the state, West Virginia American Water.
At a press conference Saturday afternoon, Jeff McIntyre, president of West Virginia American Water Company, said that it would likely still be “several days” before tap water in the nine counties affected would be safe for anything besides flushing toilets.
The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention has set the standard of 1 part per million as a safe concentration of Crude MGHM in drinking water. Levels of the chemical must remain below this threshold for over 24 hours of testing before the water company can begin flushing the system.
It’s another sterling example of a complete failure to regulate dangerous chemicals:
Three years ago this month, a team of federal experts urged the state of West Virginia to help the Kanawha Valley create a new program to prevent hazardous chemical accidents.
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board recommended the step after its extensive investigation of the August 2008 explosion and fire that killed two workers at the Bayer CropScience plant in Institute.
Since then, the proposal has gone nowhere. The state Department of Health and Human Resources hasn’t stepped in to provide the legal authority the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department needs to start such a program. And Kanawha County officials never funded the plan, and seldom mention that the CSB recommendation was even made.
Now, with more than 300,000 residents across the Kanawha Valley without usable water following a chemical accident at Freedom Industries on the Elk River, some local officials say it’s time for action.