Last week, the WV Department of Environmental Protection released two reports (here and here) on its latest visits to the Freedom Industries site, which is still only in the early stages of remediation. Freedom's remediation contractor has excavated thirteen "test pits" on the site to try to determine the extent of MCHM contamination of the soil. They found MCHM present in several of the pits. In one of the pits closest to where the leaking tanks had been located, the DEP noted an "overpowering" MCHM odor to a depth of 14 feet, at which point excavation stopped. There is a 4-feet deep collection trench between the tank farm and the Elk River; MCHM was not detected up to a depth of 6 feet in pits dug on the river-side of the trench.
This situation does not inspire a lot of confidence. We now know that MCHM has contaminated parts of the Freedom site to depths greater than 14 feet. We also know that no one has done any sub-surface modeling of MCHM flows at the site or mapping of sub-surface concentrations of MCHM. The large amount of MCHM in the soil above the collection trench will flow towards the river (MCHM is partially soluble in water). The collection trench may be stopping this MCHM, but we don't know that for sure because it is difficult to collect samples below 6 feet deep on the river-side of the trench. The collection trench has also overflowed before, allowing MCHM to reach the river.
In short, we know that parts of the Freedom site contain soil that is heavily contaminated with MCHM and that, over time, MCHM will flow down towards the Elk River. We don't have any evidence currently that MCHM is getting into the river, but nor do we have any conclusive proof that it isn't. This situation makes it all the more outrageous that WV American Water installed continuous chemical monitoring equipment at its Elk River intake that cannot monitor for MCHM.