CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Federal and state officials scrambled Wednesday for more information following the surprise disclosure Tuesday that an additional chemical was also in the tank that spilled Crude MCHM into the Elk River public drinking water supply two weeks ago.
Freedom Industries disclosed the information to state and federal regulators on Tuesday morning, but health impacts of the chemical remain unclear, and Freedom Industries has claimed the exact identify of the substance is "proprietary."
In an email to state officials Tuesday night and a press statement this morning, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control noted that data about the potential health effects of the chemical "PPH" are -- like the information on Crude MCHM -- "very limited."
CDC spokeswoman Barbara Reynolds said Wednesday that information thus far indicates that PPH is probably less toxic than Crude MCHM, and officials have said they believe that West Virginia American Water's treatment system was likely able to remove the PPH from the water.
"Given the small percentage of PPH in the tank and information suggesting similar water solubility as MCHM, it is likely that any amount of PPH currently in the water system would be extremely low," Reynolds said in an emailed statement. "However, the water system has not been tested for this material."
The Gazette learned about the additional chemical from a source, and confirmed that information with the U.S. Chemical Safety Board. Later, the Tomblin administration made officials from several agencies available to provide additional details.
Mike Dorsey, chief of homeland security and emergency response for the state Department of Environmental Protection, learned about the additional chemical shortly before 10 a.m., at a regular, daily meeting between government officials and Freedom Industries representatives.
Dorsey said that Freedom President Gary Southern told him about the PPH, and that there was about 300 gallons of the material in the tank that leaked. It's not clear how much of it actually escaped the tank or how much made it into the river.
According to information Freedom gave to Dorsey, something that Freedom called "PPH, stripped" was added to the Crude MCHM that Freedom bought from Eastman Chemical and then sold to area companies for use in coal-cleaning facilities.
While some reports have used the term "Crude MCHM" and the chemical "4-methylcyclohexanemethanol" interchangeably, the 4-MCHM is actually only one of seven components of Crude MCHM.
Eastman Chemical's material safety data sheet, or MSDS, says the chemical 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol makes up 68 percent to 89 percent of Crude MCHM. The Eastman MSDS also shows that Crude MCHM includes six other ingredients: 4-(methoxymethyl)cyclohexanemethanol, water, methyl 4-methylcyclohexanecarboxylate, dimethyl 1,4-cyclohexanedicarboxylate, methanol and 1,4-cyclohexanedimethanol.
Dorsey said that Freedom told him that the "PPH, stripped" it was using was a mixture of two other chemicals, DiPPH Glycol Ether, and PPH Glycol Ether. Dow Chemical makes those two chemicals, according to the information Freedom gave to Dorsey.
But Richard Denison, a senior scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund, noted that Freedom Industries withheld the specific chemical identify of the "PPH, stripped." The MSDS provided by the company lists the key "chemical abstract service" identification number as "proprietary."
"All this means yet more questions and more uncertainty for West Virginia residents," Denison wrote on his group's blog. "The number of lessons to be drawn from this West Virginia chemical spill appears to be growing by the day."