I accidentally happened across an article on the NPR website yesterday about a recent chemical spill in West Virginia. They seem to have somehow heard of coal in that state. Coal mining, for those not familiar with it, involves not only digging it out of the strata where it lies, but doing some onsite processing before shipping it off, and that involves some chemistry. They “wash” the coal ore to reduce emissions at power plants. That sounds good, right? Until they spill the stuff they’re washing it with.
“On January 9, more than 7,000 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol leaked into Charleston’s water supply from a Freedom Industries storage tank. The result was a do-not-use order that left about 300,000 people in the area unable to drink or bathe in their water, some for more than a week.” (from an article linked below.)
There was also a chemical, PPh, which was in the mix, in a small concentration, though company officials didn’t notify the state until after they should have. PPh is a secret mixture of mixed glycol ethers; think reactive antifreeze. Don’t let your pets drink it or they might go boom.
The attached photo shows the tank which leaked. The NFPA 704 (National Fire Protection Agency) 4-colored placard shows a 2 in the blue diamond, which is for toxicity. The scale goes from 0-4, with 4 being the worst. A 2 isn’t enough to make me run for the hills, but I don’t want to drink it, either. The 1 for flammability isn’t of much concern. I don’t know if the company threw some green vegetation on top of the outfall pipe to show that the stuff wasn’t that bad, or what.
I had a nice phone conversation with a representative of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection this morning, who helped me find out what PPh was. Since it’s proprietary, there isn’t much to go on. If a worker gets exposed to a “proprietary” product on the job, and develops symptoms, the manufacturer has to tell that person’s doctor what’s in it, but the doctor is barred from telling the patient what she or he was exposed to. That’s something I think needs to change.
Here’s the article from which the above quote came: