12th January 2014

Hundreds of thousands of water company customers in the USA are facing a fourth day without their tap water supply of drinking water. Charleston, West Virginia residents have been told that it could be days before its was safe to drink their tap water again. A harmful chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol or MCHM which is used in coal processing had leaked from an industrial storage tank that contaminated the local river which is used for the local water supply.

Emergency plans have been implemented following the hospital checks on at least 122 people who reported symptoms including nausea and vomiting. Agencies involved in the incident include the Chemical Safety Board, the State Department of Environmental protection and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The operator of the chemical plant – Freedom Industries Inc. produces speciality chemicals for the mining steel and cement industries and was founded in 1986. The Charleston plant, Etowah River Terminal, is located on the Elk River and has 4 million gallons of storage capacity. The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has issued a Notice of Violation to Freedom Industries following and escape of MCHM into the air. Following complaints from the public on January 9th 2014 inspectors discovered the source of the odours was from a leaking Crude MCHM tank and that there had been no attempts for containment of the spillage. The site was also instructed to immediately conduct integrity testing of all the above ground structures and bunding on site. An investigation team of safety inspectors from the Chemical Safety Board are to arrive on site on the morning of Monday 13th January and are charged with looking into all aspect of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in safety management systems.

West Virginia American Water, the operators of the water works and distribution system have issued “Do Not Use Water Notices” and are implementing a concentric circle flushing program beginning at a central location and moving to the far ends of the water distribution system. The parent company American Water supplies an estimated 14 million people in more that 30 US states and Canada.

Sources
Chemical Safety Board http://www.csb.gov/csb-deploys-to-chemical-spill-in-charleston-wv/
Freedom Industries Inc. http://www.freedom-industries.com/home.html
West Virginia American Water http://www.amwater.com/wvaw/about-us/news.html
West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection http://www.dep.wv.gov/Pages/default.aspx
West Virginia Saturday Gazette-Mail http://www.wvgazette.com/News/201401100100