More frustrating news has surfaced for the West Virginia residents affected by the Freedom Industries chemical spill: federal and state investigators learned on Tuesday that a previously unreported chemical was in the tank that leaked on January 9th. The tank that leaked MCHM also contained PPH, a type of polyglycol ether used in many applications including industrial manufacturing and medicine.
PPH is "less lethal" than MCHM, but still harmful
While the toxicologic information for PPH is vague, a data sheet from Freedom Industries says the chemical can irritate the eyes and skin, and is harmful if swallowed. The sheet did list PPH as "less lethal" than MCHM, but there are no current statistics detailing its long-term health effects. According to the West Virginia Gazette, Freedom Industries had stopped adding PPH to its MCHM supply, but allegedly unbeknownst to even company president Gary Southern, it resumed adding the chemical. MCHM is a coal-cleaning agent, and polyglycol ethers like PPH have been known to be used in substances like Selexol, a solvent used to remove carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide from the gas waste of burning coal.
It has been reported that 300 gallons of PPH leaked in the Elk River. The West Virginia American Water Co. says it believes the normal water treatment process would remove PPH without additional measures, but the company is conducting more test on water samples taken just after the leak to confirm this. West Virginia residents are still primarily concerned with MCHM, especially after last week when the CDC chimed in, urging pregnant women in the area to drink only bottled water until there are no more "detectable levels" of MCHM in the water supply. If the limited data about PPH is correct, it won't supersede MCHM as West Virginia's biggest concern, but another unknown chemical leaking into the water supply is not what the community wants to hear.