Elk River Chemcial Spill

A Thursday chemical spill into the Elk River forced Governor Earl Ray Tomblin to declare a local emergency for several Central WV counties. Tony spoke with a chemistry professor to understand the health risks.

 

Chemical Spill Spurs Action
 
Thursday morning a chemical leak into the Elk River occurred from the Freedom Industries in Charleston. The leaked product is 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol, which is used in the froth flotation process of coal washing and preparation.
 
Since the West Virginia American Water Treatment plant is just downstream from the spill, this "contaminated" water flowed into the Charleston water plant.
 
From there the "octupus-like" pipelines of WV American feed water to 9 counties in Southern and Central WV. That means even for areas that are not on the Elk or Great Kanawha Rivers can be affected by the "dirty water".
 
 
Like all leaks/spills in our region, the risk of health related problems is top of mind.
 
I spoke with Dr. Michael Castellani, Chair of Marshall’s Chemistry Department. Here are the bullet points I took away.
 
The 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol Leak will be colorless, with faint odor.
 
It will be a skin irritant if bathed with.
 
It will be a respiratory irritant.
 
Drinking it would be like drinking a glass of water with gasoline…one would immediately spit it out. If an ounce was swallowed it would be a stomach irritant.
 
All this said, the concentration of the 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol would decrease as it moves downstream. In other words, the contaminant would be diluted as it moves through the Kanawha and toward the Ohio River. 
 
Last night FEMA officials confirmed Dr. C's notion that the risks were likely not overwhelming, again the concentration of the contaminant not-with-standing.
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