01 April, 2014

Evan Osnos: A Chemical Spill in West Virginia : The New Yorker

Evan Osnos: A Chemical Spill in West Virginia : The New Yorker:

The staff initially said that there was nothing out of the
ordinary, but, when the inspectors asked to look around, a company
executive, Dennis Farrell, told them that he had a problem at Tank No.
396, a forty-eight-thousand-gallon container of industrial chemicals. At
the foot of the tank, the inspectors found a shallow open-air lake of
an oily substance, gurgling like a mountain spring. When
hazardous-material crews arrived, they followed a liquid trail under a
concrete wall, into the bushes, and down a slope, where it disappeared
beneath ice on the river.

Freedom Industries was obligated to
report the spill to a state hot line. The operator, who identified
herself as Laverne, asked what was leaking; the caller, a staff member
named Bob Reynolds, said, “Uh, MCHM.”

“MCHM?” Laverne asked.

“Right,” he said, and offered the scientific name.

Laverne paused and said, “Say again?”

methanol—is part of a chemical bath that the mining industry uses to
wash clay and rock from coal before it is burned. There are more than
eighty thousand chemicals available for use in America, but, unless they
are expected to be consumed, their effects on humans are not often
tested, a principle known in the industry as “innocent until proven