Freedom Industries, safe for now behind its Chapter 11 bankruptcy barricade, has revealed that a second chemical also escaped during the January 9 spill into the Elk River in West Virginia.
Besides 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, a foaming agent used to clean coal, the 7,500-gallon leak also included a mixture of glycol ethers known as PPH, The New York Times reported on January 22. PPH comprised 7.3 percent of the fluid, the company revealed during a meeting of the groups and agencies that are working to contain the situation.
About 4,000 Native people were affected by the spill, which cut off drinking water to 300,000 people in nine counties for more than a week. Even after the water-use ban was lifted on January 18, authorities suggested that pregnant women steer clear. Native groups in West Virginia said that industry has gotten away with dumping chemicals into the state’s waterways for years, due to lax regulations.
Ire over this second chemical disclosure, coming as it does two weeks after the initial spill, has spread even to the business community.
“The good news is that the experts think—maybe—the second chemical wasn’t any more dangerous than the first,” wrote Business Week's Paul M. Barrett on January 23. “Small comfort to the 300,000 people who lost their water and the 300 residents who had to seek medical help. The bad news is the belated revelation reaffirms that the company behind the spill is truly out of control.”
Even business concerns normally considered legitimate should not have interfered with public safety, Barrett noted in excoriating Freedom Industries’ reasoning that it held back information because it considered its PPH blend proprietary, i.e. a trade secret.
“Let that sink in,” Barrett said. “The company that stored dangerous chemicals on a river bank, a mile and a half upstream from the intake to the region’s public water supply, wants to protect trade secrets about its polyglycol ethers recipe.”
Freedom Industries sought refuge by filing for protection under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, which allows it to continue operating while being shielded from creditors and lawsuits, of which there are many.