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a licorice smell
January 10, 2014 2:10 PM   Subscribe

Tractor-trailers full of bottled water are headed to affected counties in West Virginia after public authorities told residents to "refrain from using the water for drinking, cooking, cleaning, bathing and washing” following the Elk River's contamination with 4-methylcyclohexane methanol.

4-methylcyclohexane methanol is a chemical used in a froth flotation process that removes some of the sulfur from coal. Coal plants generated 37% of US electricity in 2012, according to the US Energy Information Administration, down from 50% in 2007. The chemical spill raises questions about how clean can "clean coal" be if the environmental risks are being shifted onto the coal producing regions.

Surface water can be contaminated via direct and indirect emissions. Chemical spills and point pollution in rivers and other freshwater bodies have repeatedly threatened drinking water supplies worldwide. California's largest chemical spill - 1991's Cantara spill - dumped 19,000 gallons of a soil sterilizer into the Sacramento River. In 2012, a cadmium spill in Guangxi Province in China contaminated the Longjiang River which provides freshwater for the 3.7 million residents of Liuzhou. Most recently, December 2013 spill of 9 tons of aniline into a river in Shanxi Province that was only made public this January has infuriated the public.
posted by spamandkimchi (88 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Quick correction since I'm bad with years apparently. The aniline spill was in 2012, the furor was in 2013. And one last link on the aniline spill and its link to coal and New Jersey's now defunct textile factories.
As in Toms River, so many things about last week’s debacle in Handan were infuriating, starting with the chemical involved: aniline. That was the compound that launched the synthetic chemical industry in 1856, when a precocious 18-year-old named William Henry Perkin, experimenting in his parents’ London attic, inadvertently discovered that aniline, dissolved in sulfuric acid and mixed with potassium dichromate, made a superb purple dye.
...
The reality of 21st-century globalism, however, is that none of us can pretend that by pushing the chemical industry out of our communities we have stopped enabling its dangerous practices. The industry jobs that started in Basel, and then migrated to Cincinnati and Toms River, are now in Shanxi Province and other coal-rich areas of China. BASF alone now owns or invests in 45 Chinese ventures. Meanwhile, hundreds of smaller companies like the Tianji Coal Chemical Industry Group, whose Changzhi factory was the source of last week’s leak, are busy turning coal into aniline and a host of other chemical products.
posted by spamandkimchi at 2:22 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


And what's the name of the corporation that caused the spill?

Freedom Industries!
posted by octothorpe at 2:22 PM on January 10 [14 favorites]


Looks like the leak has apparently been going on indefinitely without anyone noticing:

State investigators discovered the material was leaking from the bottom of a storage tank, and had overwhelmed a concrete dike meant to serve as "secondary containment" around the tank, Dorsey said.

"That was going over the hill into the river," Dorsey said. "Apparently, it had been leaking for some time. We just don't know how long."

posted by enn at 2:26 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


All the spokespeople keep saying it's not especially dangerous, not a lethal chemical...

...but that it causes burning and swelling and is not to be inhaled or ingested and don't let it come into contact with your skin and if it does go to a hospital. So.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 2:31 PM on January 10 [15 favorites]


All the spokespeople keep saying it's not especially dangerous

I mean, look on the bright side, people! We have tons of chemicals that are so much worse that could have spilled instead!
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:38 PM on January 10 [16 favorites]


I believe the response is, "More of the same."
posted by Atreides at 2:46 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


All the spokespeople keep saying it's not especially dangerous, not a lethal chemical...

...but that it causes burning and swelling and is not to be inhaled or ingested and don't let it come into contact with your skin and if it does go to a hospital. So.


I believe that's about what the authorities said about the clouds of blue gas descending on a small town near where I grew up that's also right next to one of the largest coal-fired power plants in the country. That was right before the power company bought the entire town so they could evict everyone and sidestep the possibility of lawsuits against them.

It's hard because West Virginia has never had a whole lot more going for it than coal, but coal is one of the absolute worst sources of energy around in terms of the environmental effects of mining and burning it. It even somehow releases more (and more harmful) radiation than nuclear power and more (and more harmful) mercury than the CFL industry.
posted by Copronymus at 2:50 PM on January 10 [9 favorites]


Check out some locals trying to find the MSDS sheets on this link.
posted by odinsdream at 2:51 PM on January 10 [3 favorites]


...it's quite disturbing how sparse the datasheet is. I wonder how many other "commonly-used" industrial chemicals lack sufficient study and are stored in populated areas.
posted by odinsdream at 2:52 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


Why are we spending tax payer dollars to help these people when they could just as easily move to a place that doesn't have a Freedom Industries* chemical spill in their water ?

I'm just concerned that by providing these people with clean water that they will become dependent on Government and they will never learn to look after their own needs.**

*Actual company name.
** hamburger


posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 2:57 PM on January 10 [9 favorites]


Bio-errorism.
posted by srboisvert at 3:02 PM on January 10 [17 favorites]


"We've got a shit-ton of this chemical. We don't really know much about it."

"Let's keep it in the most heavily populated part of the state. Preferrably in 70 year old tanks, if you've got 'em."
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 3:08 PM on January 10 [10 favorites]


And what's the name of the corporation that caused the spill?

Freedom Industries!


Surely you're making that up.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 3:13 PM on January 10


Apparently you're not making that up. In related news, where's that bottle of whiskey?
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 3:15 PM on January 10 [6 favorites]


Not only that but their company website looks like a Steven Colbert parody.
posted by octothorpe at 3:18 PM on January 10 [7 favorites]


one more dead town's last parade: "where's that bottle of whiskey?"

Initially I scanned the FPP as something about a river being contaminated with ethanol and I was all like what's the problem...
posted by Hairy Lobster at 3:23 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


To be fair, I'm pretty sure their website actually predates the Colbert Report.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:27 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


Holy shit, that website.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:34 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


On a less inappropriately jokey note, I believe that these are the tanks in question. One of the CNN articles mentioned that the Freedom Industries facility used to be a Pennzoil refinery, and that's located adjacent to "Keystone Drive", and also very close to the address that Google pulls up for Freedom Industries.

If that's correct, it's only a few thousand feet upriver from Charleston proper. I'm actually surprised that the river is clean enough that they can pull drinking water directly out of it that close to the city. There's a lot of other industrial stuff as you go up the river, although not any other obvious tank farms.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:41 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry for how naive and stupid this question probably sounds, but, are these WV communities serviced by fresh water straight to the homes? Is there no water purification step in the local network, delivering a supply that meets some kind of minimum drinking quality standard? I'm boggling over the fact that a chemical spill in the river just automatically infects nearby households without any intermediate steps through a municipal water reservoir.
On preview, basically echoing the thing that Kadin2048 was surprised about
posted by ceribus peribus at 3:52 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


Is there no water purification step in the local supply network, delivering a supply that meets some kind of minimum drinking quality standard?

I would expect a good number of homes are on wells, not municipal water.
As for municipal systems...Is there a way to effectively filter/treat for this stuff?
posted by Thorzdad at 3:58 PM on January 10


FWIW, it does appear that Charleston has a treatment facility.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:06 PM on January 10


I'm boggling over the fact that a chemical spill in the river just automatically infects nearby households without any intermediate steps through a municipal water reservoir.

This is completely normal. There are different treatment steps taken in different places, but there is no magical remove-all-chemicals treatment. Most water treatment is focused on removing biological threats, e.g. with chlorine.
posted by ssg at 4:22 PM on January 10 [5 favorites]


Yeah, water treatment plants are not designed to remove toxic chemicals. That is one of the many reasons it is important to keep toxic chemicals out of our waterways.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:31 PM on January 10 [14 favorites]


What we need is less job-killing regulation and the free market will sort this all out.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 4:32 PM on January 10 [22 favorites]


If a foreign power - or a terrorist organization - had destroyed the water supply of one of our state capitals, it would be considered an act of war.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 4:37 PM on January 10 [55 favorites]


Yeah years ago there was a phenol spill in the Mississippi; it was diluted enough not to be dangerous (*cough*) but made the water taste nasty. Overnight all those bottled-water kiosks got out-of-service signs because even charcoal filtering doesn't take it out of the water. This stuff is probably very similar.
posted by localroger at 4:41 PM on January 10


This is a direct result of the fucking EPA's meddlesome regulations!
posted by nikoniko at 4:42 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


Holy shit, localroger, phenol is some terrible smelling stuff. I can't imagine drinking water with any hint of that smell anywhere near it.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:44 PM on January 10


Not only that but their company website looks like a Steven Colbert parody.

To be fair, once you click into the website, as well as the eagle and the Stars & Stripes, they do have a methanol molecule as part of their logo, too.
posted by ambrosen at 4:53 PM on January 10


Thorzdad- walking around that very water treatment plant more than 20 years ago, I decided not to be a chemical engineer. I believe there are more facilities, but definitely no reservoir. I was always surprised the water was clean even then.

Pro tip: Charlestonian rumor has it that anti- freeze was discovered one time in the twenties or thirties when the Kanawha River didn't freeze during a very cold spell.
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 5:20 PM on January 10 [5 favorites]


Holy shit. Fouling the water supply for tens of thousands?

People better go to prison over this.
posted by indubitable at 6:03 PM on January 10 [6 favorites]


This is the kind of thing that happens in the third world.

Wait a minute...
posted by Colonel Panic at 6:03 PM on January 10 [7 favorites]


But coal is cheaper than wind guys.... guys...... where are you going....?
posted by RolandOfEld at 6:05 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


Contrary to the Tea Party, this is why competent and well funded government agencies are so necessary. The private sector is not the solution for environmental monitoring and reclamation.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:09 PM on January 10 [8 favorites]


Much like the river catching fire in Cleveland, could this be the final straw that precipitates a new wave of environmental protection legislation? Granted, we didn't see much movement after the BP spill, but these disasters keep adding up.
posted by indubitable at 6:12 PM on January 10


Yeah years ago there was a phenol spill in the Mississippi; it was diluted enough not to be dangerous (*cough*)....

Funny you should phrase it exactly that way.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:20 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


octothorpe: their company website looks like a Steven Colbert parody.

Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

posted by Borborygmus at 6:26 PM on January 10


Holy shit, localroger, phenol is some terrible smelling stuff. I can't imagine drinking water with any hint of that smell anywhere near it.

Well fortunately the Mississippi is a big river. While there was definitely something off about the taste of the fouled water, it wasn't instant "yucky face spit it out" bad. But one of the reasons you could detect it at all in such a huge volume of water is that yeah, phenol is some nasty smelling stuff even in very small concentrations.

The problem in NC is much worse though because this is a much smaller body of water, a much higher concentration of a chemical that isn't as gag-reflex-worthy, and it really does hurt you if you come into contact with it. The comparison with the phenol spill was mainly to point out that purification plants aren't meant to deal with this kind of contaminant; they are basically built to kill any disease organisms that might be in the water rather than removing toxic contaminants, and some contaminants (like the methyl alcohol in denatured ethyl alcohol) are extremely difficult to remove even if you want to try.
posted by localroger at 6:41 PM on January 10


I wonder how long it will take for this story to just fade away into obscurity.

Will anyone do prison time for using obviously worn-out tanks to store a chemical with as many hazards to humans and animals as this one? Anyone want to bet?

Gazing into the crystal ball, I see Freedom Industries declaring bankruptcy and worming out of serious litigation, fines for environmental catastrophes, etc. Then they'll back up and regroup and there will be a new company, perhaps called American Industries(?). The new company will junk a couple of the tanks and declare the others sound - and we'll move on.

It's just crystal-ball gazing, of course.
posted by aryma at 7:10 PM on January 10 [5 favorites]


charleston is my hometown. i've spent the past two days glued to whatever news i can find, scanning facebook and twitter for updates, calling my mom to tell her where she can find water distribution centers. i was just there for christmas two weeks ago. it's a gorgeous state, a charming town, a purveyor of delicious biscuits. but it's not without faults: i grew up in charleston, see, surrounded by chemical plants. i spent many a school day sheltering-in-place due to a random chemical leak. even though i don't live there anymore, i still know how to do this.

to clear up something, charleston DOES have a water treatment facility - west virginia american water. i believe few homes in charleston proper receive well water, it's a fairly urban area with sidewalks and whatnot. but i imagine farther out in the exurbs there are more. in my very young days, i grew up on a farm about 35 minutes outside of charleston and we had a well, although eventually we went to tap water.

it's pretty unlikely that the CEO of freedom industries will go to prison. he'll be fined, there will be an investigation, the end. things similar to this, i.e. company negligence and lax safety standards, have happened to west virginia before. they are nothing new and sadly becoming a little too common these days.
posted by kerning at 7:27 PM on January 10 [10 favorites]


[Via National Geographic, emphasis added]
"I can't tell you that the water is unsafe, but I also can't tell you that the water is safe," Jeff McIntyre, the president of the utility West Virginia American Water, said at a Friday morning press conference.

McIntyre said he has had no contact with Freedom Industries.

McIntyre said his utility's water treatment plant "is designed to handle such events," although he explained that no water plant is designed to specifically treat every possible chemical: "They are designed to treat things that are naturally in the water stream."

McIntyre added that the treatment plant has "a premium treatment process," a filter of activated carbon that sits ready in case of a potentially dangerous discharge. In this case, however, "the carbon got saturated with that material and therefore the treatment process couldn't handle the quantity."

In other words, there was so much 4-methylcyclohexane methanol in the water that much of it was flowing past the carbon filter and into the water supply.
posted by spamandkimchi at 7:42 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


So the chemical is not too soluble in water, but we just don't know how much spilled into the water supply, either. Is there any concern about how it might react with the stuff already used to treat the drinking water, like fluoride, or whatever is in the filtration systems?
posted by misha at 7:45 PM on January 10


Also Scientific American has a nice piece on what little exactly is known about this polysyllabic chemical.
Officials know little about the chemical at this point. Because it is not used in consumer products but rather in industrial settings, its toxicity and other effects on humans are largely unknown. "It's a little bit of an obscure compound," says chemist Rolf Halden of the Center for Environmental Security at the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University.
posted by spamandkimchi at 7:46 PM on January 10


On preview, I see they use carbon filters.
posted by misha at 7:46 PM on January 10


Legal action has already started:
Six lawsuits had already been filed against the company by 1 p.m. Friday, according to the Kanawha County Circuit Clerk's office.
...
[Jesse Forbes, attorney at the Forbes Law Office in Charleston] said it was still important to file a lawsuit earlier rather than later, because it would help move plaintiffs to the front of a line of debtors should the defendants file for bankruptcy.
posted by ceribus peribus at 7:47 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


But...but...a company called Freedom Industries can't be bad. Why do you hate freedom?

...

In other news, apparently the water there is still approved for use in fire-fighting—so the burned-out rubble can be extra-toxic, cool. Boy am I glad my brother decided not to go to school in West Virginia.
posted by limeonaire at 7:56 PM on January 10


I'm sorry for how naive and stupid this question probably sounds, but, are these WV communities serviced by fresh water straight to the homes? Is there no water purification step in the local network, delivering a supply that meets some kind of minimum drinking quality standard? I'm boggling over the fact that a chemical spill in the river just automatically infects nearby households without any intermediate steps through a municipal water reservoir.

Likewise this response may be naive, but I'm pretty sure this is in fact how almost all of the world gets its water; without purification or qualification steps.
posted by odinsdream at 8:01 PM on January 10


Looks like Freedom Industries has already pulled their site (or it's been slammed by visitors).
posted by odinsdream at 8:06 PM on January 10


It's worth noting there isn't any kind of a time-frame provided for when the water will be safe again. Nobody knows.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 8:08 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


Anybody else notice the Ministry section on Freedom Industries' website? What the hell is that about? Is that a thing?
posted by oceanjesse at 8:25 PM on January 10


Sorry, I was referring to the other (?) freedom industries.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:28 PM on January 10


Also Scientific American has a nice piece on what little exactly is known about this polysyllabic chemical.
Officials know little about the chemical at this point. Because it is not used in consumer products but rather in industrial settings, its toxicity and other effects on humans are largely unknown. "It's a little bit of an obscure compound," says chemist Rolf Halden of the Center for Environmental Security at the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University.
posted by spamandkimchi at 8:46 PM on January 10 [+] [!]



That's the nice thing about industrial chemicals - often they are proprietary and unregulated. Companies don't have to disclose what's in fracking fluids. And I wonder what kind of chemicals are in marketing tanks at refineries where boring old gasoline gets turned into Chevron with Techron - what's in Techron? How does it interact with the environment?

Thousands of people in the Charleston area is a good sample size. How will this chemical disperse in the environment? Maybe there's another chemical to clean this one up!
posted by backwords at 9:28 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


Companies don't have to disclose what's in fracking fluids

Wait, what?

As in what the actual hell? Fracking is bad enough to begin with, are you saying that fracking companies can basically just pump whatever they feel like into the ground?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:33 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


fracking fluids are trade secrets
posted by subversiveasset at 9:41 PM on January 10 [6 favorites]


whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargarbl
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:11 PM on January 10 [3 favorites]


How will this chemical disperse in the environment? Maybe there's another chemical to clean this one up!

A Reddit comment that is a repost of an NBC News comment. Here's a relevant snippet:

"The material is lighter than water, so it's going to float on top. Should make cleanup easier & faster and dissolution happen faster, but increase the risk of it moving downstream. The half-life in rivers is estimated at ~4 days, as in gone. Not just dissolved away. Gone through a combination of microbacterial digestion, volatilization, and photoracial based degradation."

No cite for the estimation, so take it with a grain of salt.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:04 PM on January 10


Ah, I feel so much better now. /snark
posted by buzzman at 11:51 PM on January 10


"... Not just dissolved away. Gone through a combination of microbacterial digestion, volatilization, and photoracial based degradation."

Google can find no legitimate uses of the word "photoracial" outside copies of this comment on reddit and a few other sites. Is there an actual chemical term it could be a typo for?
posted by nangar at 2:25 AM on January 11


nangar: ""... Not just dissolved away. Gone through a combination of microbacterial digestion, volatilization, and photoracial based degradation."

Google can find no legitimate uses of the word "photoracial" outside copies of this comment on reddit and a few other sites. Is there an actual chemical term it could be a typo for?
"

Maybe the "racial" part is a misspelling of "racemic"?
posted by double block and bleed at 5:10 AM on January 11


Possibly "photoradical."
posted by werkzeuger at 5:47 AM on January 11


One of my radio contacts is stuck in the middle of this, and is not enjoying the complete lack of information one bit: Making the Best of a Bad Situation.
posted by scruss at 6:24 AM on January 11


Maybe there's another chemical to clean this one up!

Of course. Just like when your space station is overrun by tribbles, all you need is a couple of glommers to take care of the situation.
posted by localroger at 6:42 AM on January 11


Maybe there's another chemical to clean this one up!

Since "chemical" can describe almost anything, yes, that seems reasonable to me.
posted by maryr at 8:20 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


Boy am I glad my brother decided not to go to school in West Virginia.
posted by limeonaire at 7:56 PM on January 10


Just to note:

--Important Notice--

Morgantown Utility Board's water supply is safe and completely unaffected by the issues involving American Water customers in the Charleston, WV area. Morgantown’s water supply is not in the same water shed as the Elk River.


Also, Huntington, WV (Marshall) is unaffected at this time, apparently.
posted by basicchannel at 8:32 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


Freedom Industries
Gary Southern has had a long day. Freedom means this matters. Gary Southern is thirsty. Freedom means he has water. Human beings need water, constantly, always, and desperately. Without water, people die. Without water to wash in, people become dirty hillbillies, whose water can be poisoned. Freedom means you can tell nine counties in West Virginia not to use their water for a while, not if they want to not drink and wash in poison.

Freedom means Gary Southern is “not in the business of producing drinking water.”
the phrase you are looking for is "national sacrifice zone."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:46 AM on January 11 [5 favorites]


And I wonder what kind of chemicals are in marketing tanks at refineries where boring old gasoline gets turned into Chevron with Techron - what's in Techron? How does it interact with the environment?

I can shed a bit of light on this question. I used to work for a company that supplied fuel oils to most of the southeastern U.S.

It's actually pretty mundane: There are only a few main categories of liquids: Premium Gasoline, Regular Gasoline, Diesel, and Jet Fuel (Ethanol), and Kerosene. Each of these is what is pumped up via pipelines starting near the Gulf of Mexico and running up the Eastern states. The pipelines stop at various points to fill up large storage containers like these. Those specifically were the ones I ran inventory systems for, but these are all over the place. The same pipeline is used to ship multiple liquids by literally starting another set of liquid behind the current liquid.

Trucks visit these tank farms, fill up, and take their contents to gas stations all over the place. What they do when they fill up is choose from the available options. If they want mid-grade fuel, this is mixed at the point of delivery into the truck from Premium and Regular through a blender system. Mid-grade doesn't exist as a separate liquid until it's in the trucks.

How does Techron come into all this? Well, remember there are only a few pipeline companies. They're not shipping Techron through them, because all of the brands of gas stations get their liquids from the same pipelines. When the trucker comes up to his station to load fuel they punch in what blend they want, as well as how much additive. Note: they don't choose the kind of additive.* These truckers are getting routing instructions every morning based on the local wholesale prices. One morning the truck delivering to your local Shell station may have been fed by Wholesaler A, and next week it's Wholesaler B. Each of which has one or two additives on-site to offer the truck when it's filled.

So, Techron happens to be just double the amount of whatever additive is being offered by the wholesaler, by definition. There is no such thing as brand-specific fuel liquids. They are all the same liquids.

*There are lots of registered additives, but for logistical reasons, individual tank farms cannot offer more than one or two and remain profitable
posted by odinsdream at 9:16 AM on January 11 [19 favorites]


Maybe there's another chemical to clean this one up!

Since "chemical" can describe almost anything, yes, that seems reasonable to me.
posted by maryr at 9:20 AM on January 11 [+] [!]


Looks like they are going to end up using a "chemical" to clean up the spill ... H20!

A NY Daily News article states:

The primary component in the foaming agent that leaked is the chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol. The agent is mixed with ground-up coal to separate it from soil and rock particles, said Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute. After the coal is cleansed, the leftover mixtures of chemicals and mud are piped to slurry ponds, where much of the chemical mixture is stored until re-used.

The chemical is water-soluble, meaning it cannot be removed with surface booms that are sometimes effective in capturing spilled oil.

The chemical evaporates easily, which explains the smell that many people reported, said Capt. Larry Cseh, environmental health scientist with the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

The West Virginia National Guard has been running hourly tests on the chemical’s concentration since Thursday night. A safe level is 1 part per million. The level has dropped from 2 to 1.7 parts per million, said Maj. Gen. James A. Hoyer, Adjutant General of West Virginia.

At 0.1 parts per million, the licorice smell and green tint would disappear from the water, Hoyer said.

Even at its current concentrations, however, the chemical is unlikely to cause any serious harm, Ziemkiewicz said.

“You’d have to drink something like 1,700 gallons of water to even approach a lethal dose,” he said. If a person drank a glass or two of tainted water, “I would be astonished if that caused any serious problems.”


Thanks, solubility and dilution.
posted by backwords at 9:59 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


Hey odinsdream, thanks for the awesome comment. I'm curious what the difference is between what gets piped to no-name and brand stations. I keep hearing to go to the Shells, 76s, etc. and avoid supermarket or similar stations, so as to keep the car's engine from getting dirty gas. Is it nonsense or are differences down to additives or something else?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:02 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]


No difference, at all. Confirmation bias plus brand loyalty plus shady marketing = consumer preference in gas stations.

It's really this simple: There are only so many ways to transport fuel, and no company has their own transport system. Building out pipelines is extremely expensive:

Marathon Pipeline - System Map
Colonial Pipeline - System Map

Those four lines are the primary delivery system for fuel oils for literally half the country. (Digression: talk about critical infrastructure? Oh boy.)

While I only dealt with inventory on the southeast portions, the principle is the same everywhere:

Individual gas stations have contracts with trucking companies. Often multiple companies, in order of pricing preference.

Trucking companies (some brand-names you'll see, others that are independent operators) have fueling contracts with the tank farms (like the one I worked for).

Tank farms have agreements with one or more pipelines. Tank farms are physically attached to the pipelines, so they can only offer the fuel being delivered through the lines closest to them.

Some tank farms are run by smallish companies, some are run by giant companies. All of them offer liquid to trucking companies at certain price points.

All of these factors come together into a literal daily workflow where all of the involved parties are shuffling contracts and truck routes to get the lowest-price fuel within trucking distance of the stations they service.

In summary: there is no different fuel. You're getting the same fuel everywhere.
posted by odinsdream at 12:31 PM on January 12 [4 favorites]


How does it work for stations that don't have alcohol in their fuel? Is alcohol one of the additives available?
posted by Mitheral at 1:15 PM on January 12


Not an additive, but rather one of the primary liquids that's stored en-masse and blended at the time trucks fill up.
posted by odinsdream at 5:01 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]


No difference, at all. Confirmation bias plus brand loyalty plus shady marketing = consumer preference in gas stations.

That's amazing. It can be a $4-6 difference per fill-up, between brand and supermarket stations. I don't get gas often, but I hate wasting money. This is useful knowledge, thanks.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:08 PM on January 12


The worst part about the WV spill is that there doesn't seem to be any convincing evidence as to how long it's been going on. The water and soil could have been getting contaminated for years.

There's a very unreassuring quote from a DHS official:
Dorsey expressed confidence that the chemical, which smells like licorice, did not start leaking long before Thursday morning, when it was reported. "We would have gotten odor complaints earlier than that if it had been going on longer," he said.
That seems pretty thin. Since it basically implies that there was no monitoring or testing for this chemical aside from people's noses, if the chemical was in the water but at a level low enough that it wasn't producing a noticeable odor, then it could have gone on indefinitely.

Supposedly the missing 7,500 gallons escaped through a 1" hole in the tank. But it's hard to imagine a 1" hole just suddenly appearing; presumably the hole started off smaller, and there was a smaller leak, which then got bigger until the missing product was noticeable.

I would hope, although I have very little confidence, that the EPA would go over the records for that tank with a fine-toothed comb to figure out just how much product has disappeared from it over the years and trickled down into the soil and from there into the river. The current spill might be the tip of the iceberg in terms of overall contamination.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:20 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]


The West Virginia chemical spill is just one example of a much bigger problem
posted by homunculus at 12:42 PM on January 13


This whole situation is crazy - when I first heard about it I couldn't believe that the intake and treatment plant was downstream from this facility, and then I realized that there is a very similar geographic situation for one of the large communities where I live too...

backwords: " A safe level is 1 part per million."
This jumped out at me as I have been unable to find any regulatory guidelines about this chemical. I was going to put in a general reminder that people need to remember that "safe" here is a relative term, and probably more relates to a human health risk calculation done by a toxicologist. As long as you aren't the 1 in 10,000 that will get cancer, then hey, sure you're safe! As mentioned above even the two MSDSs that are floating around are somewhat lacking, but they generally seem that way for every chemical unless you are a first responder. I found this article: Scientists ID amount of chemical they consider safe that talks about how they came up with the number for those that are curious. They used a (non-published, non-peer reviewed) study by the manufacturer and made some very basic division. It's not great, but due to the inability to update TSCA that's where we are.

I doubt this will have any lasting effect on environmental regulation (remember the exploding fertilizer plant in Texas?), but there is a lot here that went wrong. An old failing tank, failure of secondary containment, lack of information about the chemical namely. I can't fault the treatment plant itself because they aren't designed to deal with a huge influx of chemicals, they remove sediment and biological contaminants.

The environmental regulation community is under *CONSTANT* threat and fighting for funding from the "free market" gurus. As mentioned above "how long until this story falls off the radar" - I think we're almost already there, unless you still don't have water to drink. Or even bathe in.
posted by Big_B at 1:25 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Freedom Industries, the company responsible for contaminating the water of 300,000 Kanawha Valley residents, was founded by a two-time convicted felon, benefited from the 2009 federal stimulus and at least two of its executives have longstanding ties to the Charleston business community.
posted by rtha at 2:00 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


Wow AND a Koch Brothers connection??? Oh this is getting good!
posted by Big_B at 2:08 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


Life without water in West Virginia
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:08 AM on January 15


Freedom Industries files for bankruptcy
posted by octothorpe at 12:35 PM on January 17 [1 favorite]


Previously, in this very webpage:
Gazing into the crystal ball, I see Freedom Industries declaring bankruptcy and worming out of serious litigation, fines for environmental catastrophes, etc. Then they'll back up and regroup and there will be a new company, perhaps called American Industries(?). The new company will junk a couple of the tanks and declare the others sound - and we'll move on.
posted by odinsdream at 1:08 PM on January 17 [3 favorites]


Humans Become Unwilling Test Subjects in West Virginia Chemical Spill
posted by homunculus at 1:10 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]


Charles Pierce: Things Fall Down, Things Blow Up
Imagine if there were three terrorist events in two weeks. First, terrorists poison a state's water supply. Then, they rig a building to collapse and rig another one hundreds of miles away to explode. Nervous politicians would be blue-pencilling the Bill of Rights by daybreak. The NSA would throw a parade for itself. Edward Snowden would be hung in effigy, if we couldn't do it in person. Somebody's ass would get droned in Waziristan. But these were not the acts of terrorists. These involve Job Creators. The only similarity is that people were killed whom they never knew.

It's been a bad couple of weeks in deregulated America. These two events come hard on the heels of the (with luck) temporary ruination of West Virginia's water supply. It is not remotely jumping to conclusions to say that all of these episodes are directly caused by reckless neglect. As a nation, we have neglected to rein in the excesses of our corporations. As a nation, we have neglected to fund fully the agencies tasked with worker safety and health, As a nation, we have neglected the rights of workers to organize and to bargain collectively on the issues of their own safety. As a nation, we have neglected to temper the excesses in our economy with the strongest tools we have -- the institutions of our self-goverment. As a nation, we have neglected our profound obligation to treat the captains of our industry with the same skepticism -- and, when necessary, the same contempt -- that we treat our politicians. As a nation, we have neglected the lessons of our own past, which tell us quite clearly that unregulated capitalism kills people, and that it does so with the same lack of regard, and the same cold-eyed calculation, of any other passing sociopath. These events are based in reckless neglect and will continue to be.

They will continue to be until we commit, once again, to a program of regulating our industries for our own safety. They will continue to be until we reject the notion that "free trade" requires secret deals in which we voluntarily surrender our rights to keep our workers safe here because the corporate elite in, say, Bangla Desh doesn't care about theirs. They will continue to be until, at the state level, we stop allowing our governors and our legislators to whore after corporations, ripping each others guts out in a race to the bottom that only a very few people ever win, and then things fall down and things blow up.
[...]
Kendrick Houston was brave enough to go back into the fire. Yet too many of our politicians, local and national, don't have the simple stones t stand up to a corporate class that has come to represent nothing but death and pillage. But they will show up at the funerals, boy. They will do that, and they will talk about the indomitable spirit of American individualism, through which people will run back into the fire, and then they will go out onto the stump next fall and talk about how the dead hand of government regulation is stifling that same spirit, and that freedom demands more victims. The American Dream becomes the province of the dead, Moloch with stock options, and that is the country today, where things fall down and things blow up and almost nothing ever changes.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:19 AM on January 21 [3 favorites]


No One's Job: West Virginia's Forbidden Waters
It was, apparently, no one’s job to regularly monitor Freedom Industries’ tanks along the Elk, even though state officials knew that hazardous chemicals were sitting near the West Virginia American Water intake. The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources produced its most recent “Source Water” report on the site in 2002; it includes no reference to either M.C.M.H. or Freedom Industries. (Pennzoil used to occupy the site, according to reporting by Ken Ward in the West Virginia Gazette.) The state’s Department of Environmental Protection inspected the tanks in 1991, and found nothing amiss when, in 2010, it responded to a report of a licorice scent, or in 2012, when it updated its air-pollution oversight. The only permit issued by a state agency for the site governs stormwater runoff. Local officials have sometimes asked for new authority to plan for chemical spills, but those requests go nowhere in a state government that habitually defers to both coal and chemical companies.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:05 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Behind West Virginia’s Massive Chemical Spill, A History Of Poverty And Pollution
posted by tonycpsu at 9:38 AM on January 22


Elk River leak included another chemical
posted by hydropsyche at 2:34 PM on January 22


Apparently now they're finding Formaldehyde.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 9:53 PM on January 29 [2 favorites]


Not to be contrarian but the formaldehyde claim by the public health office is correct - it is ubiquitous and is made naturally by the body. HOWEVER, it is a carcinogen and at least one source in that article is saying formaldehyde could be made by degradation of MCHM. The bigger problem is there isn't any concentration cited, just someone saying "Huzzah! We found it in one sample from one tap!" and jumping to "Freedom Industries spilled this too" which is not really how this stuff works. Perhaps it's just a little that might be a lab (or other) contaminant, or perhaps it's a whole lot.... Just saying there needs to be a little more scientific method applied here.
posted by Big_B at 11:06 AM on January 30 [1 favorite]


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