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WV Chemical Spill Points to Needed Regulation

Posted by Kathy Attar, MPH on January 16, 2014

On January 10 in Charleston, WV, community members were told their water was contaminated with an industrial chemical used in coal processing.  The chemical seeped from a ruptured storage tank into the Elk River, just upstream from the intakes pipes for the regional water company.

Officials in WV and now in Kentucky are struggling to determine how much danger the little-known chemical, MCHM, or 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, poses to the health of area residents. Some 300,000 Charleston-area residents were issued a "do not use" water advisory.  

Special tests had to be developed to track the chemicals toxicity and determine a safe level. Additionally, the one part per million safe exposure (1ppm) level issued by officials was determined with very little information. The manufacturer's Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) that regulators are using as their primary source lacks any information about chronic health impacts.

It is also unclear whether the 1ppm level captures either acute or chronic health effects from ongoing exposure to water contaminated at this exposure level.

This industrial accident highlights a key flaw in our current system of chemical regulation in the U.S.  The chemical that contaminated West Virginia's Elk River is one among tens of thousands of industrial compounds that are on the market today without any publicly available hazard or safety data.

The law governing chemicals in products, Toxic Substance Control Act or TSCA, passed in 1976, "grandfathered in" thousands of chemicals like the one contaminating West Virginians' water, allowing them to be marketed without requiring any safety testing on them.  As a result we know very little about whether these chemicals are harmful to our health.

PSR is working with a coalition of organizations to update TSCA, require chemical companies to test their chemicals before putting them on the market, and inform the public if they may be hazardous to health. Learn more about PSR's key principles for chemical policy reform.

Take Action: Tell your senators we need real reform of TSCA »


Garrett said ..

The toxic chemical spill into the Elk River, in West Virginia, has contaminated water for 300,00 people. We need stronger laws & more chemical testing.

September 24, 2015
Nate Greenband said ..

Ya'lls researches r the bestest thang on the spider web

September 24, 2015
coolboy said ..

i think ya'll did really good research

October 8, 2014
James Bruvold, PE said ..

The dose rate reconstruction project for the Hanford Site is a good place to begin. Richland, Washington, 1944. I have been there and done that.

January 29, 2014
Ann Remkus said ..

We must work harder to protect the health of all people with whom we share this planet.

January 25, 2014
Eileen Roberts said ..

This is a real wake up call. We need to prevent this sort of thing happening again. Are water supply is in trouble as it is.

January 23, 2014
Maureen Fahlberg said ..

The toxic chemical spill into the Elk River, in West Virginia, has contaminated water for 300,00 people. We need stronger laws & more chemical testing.

January 22, 2014

Comments closed.