Charleston, West Virginia – Just as Freedom Industries, the company responsible for a chemical spill at its facility on the Elk River that contaminated the water supply of approximately 300,000 West Virginians, seemed to be moving past the worst of the disaster, a new problem cropped up Wednesday: water was accidentally spilled into a chemical containment unit. That contaminated water then mixed with the company’s main chemical supply, causing untold damage and a potentially huge loss of profits.
According to company officials, an unidentified worker was standing over a large containment unit and lost his grip on a plastic water bottle he was drinking from, spilling some of the water into the unit below. The water immediately mixed with the contents of the containment unit. Worse, that unit feeds into the main chemical supply at the facility, and by the time technicians were able to block off the contaminated tank from the rest of the supply, it was already too late.
“We had a report come in at about 10:00 a.m. that a small amount of water had been spilled into one of our containment units,” said Freedom Industries President Gary Southern. “By the time our team was able to cut off the flow from that tank, the main supply had unfortunately already been contaminated. This is, of course, unfortnate, and we’re doing everything we can to respond quickly and effectively to this issue.”
The company’s main chemical supply contains several toxic agents used for “cleaning” coal, including 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, or MCHM. Though it is unclear what the effects of the spill on the chemicals will be, Michael Zuridch, a professor of Environmental Science at West Virginia University, said contact with water has the potential to be very destructive.
“These chemicals are not supposed to touch clean water,” Zuridch said. “It’s like poison for them. There could be a great deal of damage.”
Zuridch cautioned that it will take time before the full extent of the damage is known, “because so much testing will be required. It could be that those chemicals are completely unusable. Time will tell.”
Southern admitted it had been a difficult week for himself and his company, but that all necessary actions were being taken.
“I would love a break, believe me,” he said. “But we have to take this seriously. This is water coming in contact with precious chemicals. We can’t mess around here.”