Officials have declared the water in West Virginia safe following a coal chemical spill into the Elk River. Meanwhile, in just one week, hospital admissions tied to the spill have doubled.
“Crude MCHM” is a frothing agent used to clean coal that leaked into the Elk River on January 9th. The spill contaminated the water supply to 300,000 people in nine counties, RT.com reported. The water ban began to be lifted on January 13th and was completely lifted by the 18th of January, according to Think Progress. By January 12th, about 169 people were treated at area hospitals, RT.com reported. Between January 9 and January 18, 411 patients were treated at 10 different hospitals for health issues associated with Crude MCHM.
As the number of people being treated in hospitals mounts, calls to West Virginia’s Poison Control Center have increased, as well. More than 2,300 calls had been made as of this weekend, according to a press release issued by Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s office, RT.com wrote.
“We’re in the middle of flu and virus season,” said Dr. Letitia Tierney of the state Bureau of Public Health. “While the [hand] sanitizer is good for cleaning, it isn’t great for eliminating a virus. Some people are getting these viruses, as many people do every winter. In addition, a lot of people are getting very anxious. Anxiety is a real diagnosis and it can be really hard on people and it’s OK to be seen by a health professional to ensure you’re OK,” RT.com reported.
Some “do not use” bans were lifted before new tests revealed that chemical levels were higher than the one part per million (ppm) standard that had been implemented by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), RT.com wrote. Further complicating the situation, CDC standards are not based on Crude MCHM, but on the chemical’s pure form. Crude MCHM is actually a combination of seven ingredients, which means that safety testing does not fully consider potential dangers tied to the other chemicals.
“If crude MCHM is truly what leaked, it’s possible that we don’t even know which of this ‘cocktail’ is most harmful. We could have set a threshold based on the wrong one. We may be testing the wrong one,” Evan Hansen, president of Morgantown-based Downstream Strategies, told Think Progress.
Meanwhile, federal and state investigators just learned that another, previously unidentified, chemical was part of the chemical cocktail that leaked into the Elk River. The Crude MCHM contained a product called “PPH,” the U.S. Chemical Safety Board announced, according to the West Virginia Gazette. Daniel Horowitz, managing director of the CSB, said, “we were told about another component in the mixture that had been added to the Crude MCHM, a product called ‘PPH’ consisting of polyglycol ethers, at about 5.6 percent.”
Initial reports described the chemical as interchangeably as 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol and Crude MCHM; however, 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol is just one of the seven components in Crude MCHM, which is made by Eastman Chemicals Co. The mix is stored and sold by Freedom Industries. Eastman Chemical indicated that 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol comprises 68-89 percent of Crude MCHM and its paperwork indicates that Crude MCHM includes: 4-(methoxymethyl)cyclohexanemethanol, water, methyl 4-methylcyclohexanecarboxylate, dimethyl 1,4-cyclohexanedicarboxylate, methanol, and 1,4-cyclohexanedimethanol, the West Virginia Gazette reported.
Residents are worried about their water, and despite a lifting of the ban, many continue to refuse to use the water there. “Nobody that I know is ingesting the stuff,” local resident Richard Katz told the Gazette. “Some people are taking showers. Many are not. As for me, personally, I’m not touching this stuff,” he also said, according to RT.com.
The cause of the leak remains unconfirmed; some 20 lawsuits have been filed against Freedom Industries, the company that maintained the storage tanks containing the spilled Crude MCHM; and Freedom Industries just filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, RT.com reported. Some lawsuits have named West Virginia-America Water, as well.