Yet another chemical identified as present in West Virginia chemical spill

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.

Just when you thought this story couldn’t get any weirder or worse, it has just been revealed that another chemical substance was present alongside the crude MCHM mixture that leaked into the Elk River and contaminated the drinking water of 300,000 West Virginia residents.

A story published late today in the Charleston Gazette by Ken Ward, Jr., reports that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has told officials that a chemical identified as “PPH, stripped” was present in the leaking tank at a level of 5.6%.  A Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for the substance, provided by the Gazette, describes the substance as consisting of 100% “polyglycol ethers” – but withholds the substance’s specific chemical identity as “proprietary.”

And while the scant toxicity data provided on the substance in the MSDS suggest it has lower acute oral toxicity than the crude MCHM mixture – at least for what is called the “majority component” (suggesting that this substance, too, is a mixture) – the MSDS notes that “PPH, stripped” is a “serious eye irritant” and a skin irritant.

It has already been reported by the Charleston Gazette that some residents making hospital visits did so because of rashes or other skin irritation; other reports indicate eye irritation among residents as well.  It should be noted that the MSDS for crude MCHM reports that it is also a skin and eye irritant.

Some quick searches I’ve done tonight for “PPH” and “PPH, stripped” – including one using ChemIDPlus, a large chemical database maintained by the National Library of Medicine, have not yielded further information.

All this means yet more questions and more uncertainty for West Virginia residents.  A few:

– How did EPA learn of the presence of this new chemical in the spilled material?  So far, EPA’s not talking.

– Why did it take 12 days for this information to come out?  And then, not from the company, Freedom Industries, that owns and operates the leaking tank?

– Has this chemical been monitored for in the river and drinking water samples?  (Presumably not, since its presence was just revealed.)

– Who makes PPH, and will they now reveal its identity given the massive human exposure that has occurred?

– Or will EPA exercise its rarely used authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to compel disclosure of the identity of PPH?  Section 14(a)(3) of TSCA provides that confidential business information “shall be disclosed if the [EPA] Administrator determines it necessary to protect health or the environment against an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment.”

Surely, this is such a case.


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  1. Lee Arnold
    Posted January 22, 2014 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    Nail them to the wall!!!!!

    • Nancy
      Posted January 23, 2014 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

      Can you imagine being one of these poor people? Stand up for them cause we are next…take it seriously because u likely will be affected at some point soon by chemical pollution you could be now without knowing since most chemical trespass is not in the public’s eye or takes a lot of work to find out!!! I love the claim to proprietary information so they can do what they want and not have to disclose to anyone that cares!! Do people understand that corporations get to pollute if they pay a fee for A PERMIT TO POLLUTE until something bad happens (which inevitably will) and then the corporate lawyers will find some loophole, politicians, or judge(s) to get them off the hook. Then we the taxpayers get to buy out all those affected and pay for a Superfund site for now until eternity as the corporation strategically transfers it profits, goes bankrupt and opens under a new identity…clean slate!!! Our system of permitting corporations to pollute the resources we rely on to survive is an absurd premise that will surely cause massive very expensive problems as we continue to treat our limited resources we rely upon like a chemical dumping ground….how stupid can we be??? We would rather sit back and continue to blame God for delivering cancer and disease on us? Find a way to insist on change….support environmentally astute candidates that will vote for the protection of life from chemical trespass on all fronts!!! Find out what corporations are doing in your communities and get involved in holding them accountable. Focus on known cancer causing toxins as well as untested unknown chemicals being used….no one can afford to sit this one out!!!