The chemical spill in Elk River has affected hundreds of thousands of West Virginians these past three weeks. When the initial spill was first discovered, residents across nine counties were told not to consume the water. Although, officials have said that the water is now safe for everyone except pregnant women, but residents and experts alike have been skeptical. Now, residents are being told that formaldehyde is being detected in water.
William J. Dubanevich, environmental attorney at Parker Waichman LLP, says that formaldehyde was a main issue at the town hall forum yesterday. Not only is the chemical being found in the water, but residents may be inhaling the substance while showering with tainted water. The Environmental Protection Agency has listed formaldehyde as a probable carcinogen that has been known to cause cancer in animals. The chemical is colorless with a strong odor. Exposure to formaldehyde gas can cause burning in the eyes and throat, nausea, difficulty breathing and may also trigger allergic reactions.
A number of experts are concerned about this latest discovery and the current water crisis. Scott Simonton, an environmental scientist at Marshall University and member of a state water quality board, told the panel of experts that he found traces of formaldehyde in a water sample taken near a popular restaurant in Charleston yesterday. He told the panel “I can guarantee you that citizens in this valley are, at least in some instances, breathing formaldehyde,’ Simonton said that finding was “really frightening” and said that he and his family were not consuming the water, even though officials claim that it is safe.
The chemical spill, which was discovered on January 9th, has been disastrous for West Virginia residents. The matter has been made worse because not much is known about the chemicals that tainted the water. Dr. Rahul Gupta, executive director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department and a panelist at the meeting, pointed out that “ We are the first human beings this chemical has ever been experimented on…We are the laboratory population in a way.”
Trust, or lack thereof, was also an issue discussed at the meeting. Officials say that the water is safe for most people, yet attendees at the meeting report rashes and other health issues after using the water. Erin Brockovich, national environmental activist and panelist, said “ I don’t need anyone to tell me to trust them, when I can see and smell something is wrong,”