West Virginia Chemical Leak Demonstrates Need for Disclosure

Tom Lent | January 24, 2014 | Policies

The steadily unfolding disaster in West Virginia, makes painfully clear why transparency is so important. About two weeks ago, a coal-processing chemical leaked into the Elk River, tainting the drinking water for 300,000 people. Initially the company at fault - a firm with the ironic name of Freedom Industries – reported that the leaking chemical was MCHM, calculations were done and health officials determined that the water was too hazardous to consume – or even bathe in. Twelve days later, just as levels are supposedly returning below the thresholds the health officials calculate to be safe (albeit with sadly inadequate scientific data) it has been revealed that there is a second previously undisclosed chemical involved. What is it? Believe it or not, the MSDS provided by Freedom Industries to explain the situation indicates it is made up of entirely 100% proprietary ingredients and only a lot of sleuthing has triangulated what it might be. The MSDS has other wonderful conundrums, like “Hazardous decomposition products: Not anticipated under normal conditions of use” above “Decomposition: Unknown” and “No data available” listed for all ecological and much of the toxicological information categories. And you can bet that as long as it is hidden under the proprietary moniker it won’t be the subject of much research.

It is pretty outrageous that a company can dump a chemical into the public drinking supply and get away with not releasing the identity of the chemical for health investigation. But then is that all that different from putting a chemical into a building product that offgasses or dusts off into our breathing supply and not releasing the identity?