Water Situation in W Va Continues Serious

The bad thing is that 5,000 some gallons of a coal-treating chemical spilled into the West Virginia’s public water system.  The odd thing is that no one seems to know how toxic the stuff is.  A few people have been admitted to hospital with nausea, eye irritation or difficulty breathing — but from what exposure is not known.  So, the default position is full scale shut down of using the water — which brings its own health problems.

You’d sure think, with intake valves for the water company just downstream from the chemical storage, someone would long ago have calculated amounts, levels, risks and mitigation.

Officials said that up to 5,000 gallons of an industrial chemical used in coal processing seeped from a ruptured storage tank into the Elk River, just upstream of the intake pipes for the regional water company.

Authorities struggled to determine how much danger the little-known chemical, MCHM, or 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, posed.

“We don’t know that the water is not safe, but I can’t say it is safe,” said Jeff McIntyre, president of the West Virginia American Water Company, which supplies most of the household water in the area. “The only appropriate use for this water is toilet flushing.”

The chemical, which smells like licorice, can cause headaches, eye and skin irritation, and difficulty breathing from prolonged exposures at high concentrations, according to the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists.

NY Times

From Think Progress: The 6 Most Terrifying Things About the Spill

1. No one knows when water will be safe to drink again.

2. No one knows when the leak started or how much has leaked into the Elk River

3. The water company has had no contact with Freedom Industries, the company that manufactures the spilled chemical

4. There is no standard process for testing the toxicity of the spilled chemical in water.

5. It’s unclear just how dangerous the diluted chemical is to drink or breathe.

6. The chemical may have leached into the soil.

So, how is it that permits have long been issued if #5 is true?


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