Crude MCHM, also known as 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, is the chemical that leaked into the Elk River in West Virginia and led to a nine-county water ban and a state of emergency being put in place. Some 300,000 people were left without water for days and, now, lawsuits are mounting. Area residents and business owners are becoming nervous about the licorice-smelling chemical that is a coal cleaner and frothing agent.
This week, reports were received about water being distributed to residents who had been under the water ban, and that the water smelled like licorice, an aroma consistent with Crude MCHM. Bulk tankers were pulled from service in Kanawha County by West Virginia American Water, according to WVGazette.com/The Charleston Gazette, after the firm was advised of this new water issue. Crude MCHM leaked from a damaged Freedom Industries storage tank into the Elk River.
Kanawha County Manager, Jennifer Sayre, said reports were coming in late yesterday afternoon about the licorice smell coming from water supplies being handed out at the Crossings Mall in Elkview and at the Riverside High School. “We were getting conflicting information as to where [those tankers] were filled,” Sayre said. “We wanted to clear that up.” County officials were told that the tankers were filled with water located “off site, out of Charleston,” she said, according to WVGazette.com/The Charleston Gazette; however, after a second conversation with West Virginia American Water officials, they were advised to take the tankers out of circulation.
Laura Jordan, a water company spokeswoman said that the takers were filled with water that is located near the plant, but only after the water tested with a zero level of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, according to WVGazette.com/The Charleston Gazette. “But to avoid any concerns … just to reassure our customers, we’re filling up the tankers from another system.” The concerns about which Jordan was referring involves a January 15th U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendation that pregnant women should not drink the water. This has made people even more anxious, said Jordan. “We understand that people are a little sensitive, especially with that…. We don’t want to add to it,” she said, according to WVGazette.com/The Charleston Gazette.
Little, if anything is known about the longer-term risks and potentially life-long side effects associated with exposure to 4-methylcyclohexane methanol. People may experience nausea, vomiting, dizziness, headaches, diarrhea, red or irritated skin, itching, rash, eye irritation, irritation of the nose and throat, and drowsiness with short-term exposure; however, only minimal testing has been conducted on 4-methylcyclohexane methanol. No human testing has been conducted on the chemical; however, animal testing revealed that the chemical may lead to unconsciousness and caused one rat to die. The CDC indicates that 4-methylcyclohexane methanol affects the eyes, skin, and central nervous and respiratory systems.
State government and water company officials said they are looking to the CDC for guidance. The CDC has recently indicated that 1 part per million (ppm) of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol is considered a “safe” level in water for human exposure, WVGazette.com/The Charleston Gazette reported.
At the time the leak was discovered, West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin announced that Freedom Industries did not report the leak to the chemical hot line. Meanwhile, the chemical flowed into the West Virginia-American Water intake system, contaminating the Elk River, HuntingtonNews.net reported.
Eight class action lawsuits have been filed, to date, and Parker Waichman’s Co-Counsel in the lawsuits, Harry F. Bell Jr. of the Bell Law Firm, has pointed out that government officials should have known what was going on so close to its facility. Bell Jr. also said that a rationing order should have been put in place, intakes should have been closed until the leak was stopped, and intakes should have been re-opened once the leak was confirmed stopped. None of this was done, according to Bell Jr., who also said, “This is a real problem…. They didn’t plan appropriately for this and everything has been shut down because of it…. People deserve to know; they deserve to get answers,” The West Virginia Record reported.