On January 9, 7,500 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol also containing “PPH,” which contains glycol ether, was released into the Elk River in West Virginia. These chemicals belonged to Freedom Industries, a company that creates a wide range of mining and water treatment chemicals. The White House ordered a state of emergency for West Virginia and over 300,000 people in different counties were forced to go without water. Charleston, West Virginia made up the majority of those without safe water usage.
Restaurants and businesses were forced to remain closed due the water shortage. At first, the spill was believed to be harmless and officials stated that the water was safe for consumption. Then, not long after the statement was made, there was a complete ban on water. However, samples showed that the chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol–used in the coal industry as a foaming agent–was well below the one part per million molecules in the water considered safe to drink.
Families began to use bottled water for daily use as well as consumption. The National Guard began importing water to the counties in fear of bottled water selling out on the shelves. Other families got more creative and were finding fresh water sources near their houses that did not run off of the contaminated Elk River. One family found a stream not far from their house, ran a long hose out to it and started gathering and boiling the water to be able to wash clothes and bathe.
Even now that some of the bans on water have been lifted, some officials say to remain cautious. The chemical is only dangerous when consumed in large amounts. Now that it has had plenty of distance to dilute in the water, all safety tests show it to be consumable.The government and state is taking a closer look into discovering safer chemical containment to prevent the same kind of accident from occurring elsewhere. The public, however, is still awaiting the repercussions Freedom Industries will face for the water contamination that affected so many. Hopefully, this incident will give other companies the warning that Freedom Industries did not receive. Luckily, no neighboring states were affected and the spill was contained.