CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Officials now believe more chemical than previously estimated leaked into the Elk River, leading to the water contamination that continues to prevent 300,000 West Virginians from using their tap water.
No one knows when the water will be safe to use, while state and water company officials say they are trying to learn more about the chemical.
The state also believes the company that owned the chemical and storage facility knew its safety measures needed major upgrades.
Mike Dorsey, chief of homeland security and emergency services for the state Department of Environmental Services, said he spoke with Gary Southern, president of the company that owns the chemical and leaking container.
"(Southern) said they just put $1 million in escrow to fix the secondary containment," Dorsey said.
"They hadn't got a chance to do it yet."
The $1 million investment was part of Freedom's agreement to purchase the property in the last 30 days, Dorsey said, again citing a conversation with Southern
Freedom officials also just told Dorsey it appears 7,500 gallons of the chemical, known as crude MCHM, seeped from a container.
Originally, company officials thought between 2,000 and 5,000 seeped through a hole in the tank, and then an unknown amount escaped through a secondary barrier into the river.
Company officials told Dorsey the new amount, he said Saturday afternoon at a press conference from the state Capitol. He isn't sure if that number could change again.
Dorsey estimated the hole through which the chemical -- which is a little thinner than water with an obvious odor of black licorice and used in coal production -- leaked is about an inch in diameter.
The bottom portion of the tank sits slightly underground, and the hole was a few inches below the surface of the ground, Dorsey said. This delayed the finding of the hole.
After the chemical started leaking and came up through the ground near the tank, it flowed down from the tank and filled up the northwest portion of the secondary containment area, Dorsey said. It then began to pool near the secondary containment barrier, a wall.
"The wall is an old cement block wall. There are some problems with the mortar in a couple places and it came out through that," Dorsey said.
The DEP doesn't permit or inspect the facility because the material isn't "regulated" and the company doesn't produce anything on site, Dorsey and other officials have said.
The company removed the rest of the chemical from the site, as was ordered by the state DEP. Although Freedom Industries is responsible for doing something with the contaminated soil, Dorsey thought additional chemical could leak from the bank of the river for some time.
Freedom Industries representatives were not invited to Saturday's press briefing, said Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's spokeswoman Amy Shuler Goodwin.
A spokeswoman for the company did not return a phone message.
The water company, National Guard and others are testing the water. Experts are testing the water in the Elk River before it enters the plant and after it leaves, Dorsey said.
They declined to provided specifics on the latest information until their experts could sift through data and provide the best results, said Major General James Hoyer, head of the West Virginia National Guard.
"We need to understand that this is a large... system and it requires a significant amount of testing and sampling to ensure that we get the data that's needed for those experts to then to be able to make a decision as to when the system can be brought back into use," Hoyer said.
On Friday, Hoyer said initial tests showed there were 3 parts per million of the chemical in the water, and additional tests showed 1.7 parts per million.
The U.S. Center for Disease Control and other federal agencies say less than 1 parts per million is a safe amount for consumption, said Jeff McIntyre, president of West Virginia American Water.
"Even when water produced by the plant meets acceptable health levels, extensive testing must be conducted in the distribution system before the "do not use" order is lifted," McIntyre said during the press conference.
Hoyer said the state won't say what current tests results show, because they are still working their way through testing samples. It takes time to test the samples, and there are a lot of samples, Hoyer and McIntyre said.
No one provided specific details about the amount of tests taken or what goes on during testing.
The state, water company and group of specialist will decide what a safe amount
McIntyre said officials aren't sure when flushing of the 1,700 miles of affected pipeline can happen, but when it does, he anticipated it would take several days.
State emergency services official Jimmy Gianato said the Federal Emergency Management Administration supplied 1.4 million liters of water early Saturday, with an additional 800,000 liters on its way Saturday. Another 800,000 liters are coming Sunday, he said.
There are many distribution sites set up throughout Kanawha County and the other eight counties affected. Check dailymailwv.com and wvfindwater.com for more information.
Another press briefing is scheduled for 9 pm. Check in at dailymailwv.com for more information at that time.Contact Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.bouc...@dailymailwv.com. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/Dave_Boucher.