Events like this are manageable for populations wealthy enough to purchase bottled water or travel to cleaner digs. For impoverished folks and for the creatures and plants of the land, this is a true crisis.
The leak was a foaming agent used to wash coal, and it went from a 48,000 gallon storage tank straight into the Elk River. The primary component in the foaming agent that leaked is the chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (CH3C6H10CH2OH). It has been patented as an air freshener and has a slightly minty odor (another good reason not to use air fresheners). It is used in ~20-25% of coal plans, mainly for "coking coal" which is used for metallurgical purposes, but not for making coal burned to make electricity ("steam coal") which is the lion's share of total coal produced.
The biz owning the leaky tank is called Freedom Industries, and it distributes mining reagents for WV, VA, PA, OH, MD, MN, KY, and MI. In 2008, Freedom Industries was specially selected by Georgia-Pacific Chemicals as a distributor of G-P's Talon brand mining reagents for the states already mentioned. Georgia-Pacific Chemicals is, of course, a subsidiary of Georgia-Pacific, which was acquired by Koch Industries in 2005. Koch is big biz, and should be penalized to assure that they will take better precautions in all their plants in the future.
Fresh Brains sent me this link:
National Geographic on the same leak: