Federal Scientists Issue Final Update of West Virginia Chemical Spill Study

July 15, 2016

Federal government scientists have released a final update of their study of the January 2014 chemical spill that temporarily fouled the drinking water supplies of 300,000 Charleston-area residents, reporting no significant new findings.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail cited the report as finding “most of the spilled chemicals had no effects in the studies that were performed” after the spill of coal-cleaning agent Crude MCHM at a Freedom Industries site near the Elk River that year.

The work was conducted by the National Toxicology Program at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The newspaper said scientists found any potential for negative health effects would only occur at significantly higher doses than residents would have had in their water under a health advisory set up after the spill.

One concern not addressed in the report is how dangerous inhalation of the chemical might be. Residents may have been exposed to airborne MCHM when they followed state-promoted guidelines for running hot and cold water to flush the chemical out of their pipes. Federal officials originally planned to study that and come up with a limit for how much MCHM is safe in the air, but they quickly abandoned the idea and no air sampling was done.

John Bucher, associate director of the NTP, said in a phone interview, “We really had no clue about what kinds of levels of exposures were happening during the flushing.”

Bucher also said it’s not clear why the federal study found skin irritation from the chemical only at very high exposure levels, while residents reported such effects as a common symptom when they sought medical help following the spill.

NTP report also mentions a birth weight study performed by the state Department of Health and Human Resources. That report was posted on a state website but hasn’t been widely publicized. It found no increase in the percentage of pre-term and low birth-weight babies born in the region affected by the spill.


Topics Pollution Virginia West Virginia Chemicals

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