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Second chemical found in West Virginia spill

An unidentified worker at Freedom Industries shovels NAPA premium oil absorbent in Charleston, West Virginia, Jan. 10, 2014.
An unidentified worker at Freedom Industries shovels NAPA premium oil absorbent in Charleston, West Virginia, Jan. 10, 2014.

UPDATE--01/24/2014, 2:00 p.m. ET: Preliminary testing Thursday evening showed no detectable levels of PPH, according to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources. WSAZ reports that teams will continue to “pursue more aggressive testing of water samples for PPH,” but believe residents should not worry about any new health concerns.

ORIGINAL POST--01/23/14, 3:15 p.m. ET

Federal and state officials expressed outrage after learning for the first time this week that a second chemical may have contaminated West Virginia's water supply during a massive chemical spill two weeks ago.

Freedom Industries, the company that owns the storage tank that leaked the coal-processing chemical, revealed to regulators on Tuesday morning that the ruptured tanks also contained a mixture called "PPH."

The admission raises alarms for thousands of residents who have already been affected by the Jan. 9 spill that contaminated the water supply and forced local businesses and schools to close for more than a week. 

"It is very disturbing that we are just now finding out about this new chemical almost two weeks after the leak," Secretary of State Natalie E. Tennant said in a statement. "And with this new information West Virginians are right to raise even more questions about the safety of their drinking water."

It's unclear how much of the 300 gallons of PPH that was stored in the leaky tank spilled into the Elk River, but officials are urging both the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and West Virginia American Water to re-test the water supply and post its findings online. Not much information is known about the toxicity of PPH, but Freedom Industries' data sheet lists the mixture as "less lethal than Crude MCHM," the chemical already identified in the leak, but adds PPH is harmful if swallowed.

"Having this revelation so late in the game is completely unacceptable," WVDEP Cabinet Secretary Randy Huffman said. "Having to order them to provide such obvious information is indicative of the continued decline of their credibility."

According to an account in the Charleston Gazette, Freedom Industries President Gary Southern approached Mike Dorsey, director of homeland security and emergency response for West Virginia's Department of Environmental Protection, on Tuesday morning to tell him about the second chemical.

In a letter to the WVDEP, Southern explained that PPH was added to the Crude MCHM "to act as an 'extender,' in that the Crude MCHM is available in limited, sporadic quantities." 

Freedom Industries filed for bankruptcy last Friday amidst a growing number of lawsuits filed against the company. The Chapter 11 filing would give the corporation a reprieve from responding to the suits.