Background

On January 9, 2014, the WV Department of Environmental Protection, responding to complaints from local residents of a strong licorice smell, discovered a chemical leak at the Freedom Industries chemical storage site along the Elk River, just north of Charleston, WV. The inspectors discovered crude 4-methylcyclohexylmethanol (MCHM) leaking from the site into the Elk River, just upstream of the drinking water intake for West Virginia American Water’s system that serves 300,000 customers in 9 counties. The total amount of chemical spilled is estimated at 7500 gallons, which means that the spill was likely ongoing for at least 15 hours. More than ten days after the spill, Freedom Industries revealed that another chemical, PPH, had also been in the tank that leaked. Even less is known about PPH than about MCHM.