CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., has asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more information on its efforts to determine a safe level of inhalation and skin exposure to MCHM, according to a news release from her office.
In a letter to CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden, Capito asks for a number of questions to be answered, including whether the CDC considered the health risks of exposure to MCHM through inhalation and direct skin contact when preparing the 1 parts per million screening standard.
“The Freedom Industries spill has made it clear that additional information needs to be available for chemicals circulating in the marketplace that may impact human health. In cases where that information is not available, however, health officials should error on the side of informing that public of the uncertainty,” Rep. Capito wrote
The full text of the letter is below:
April 22, 2014
Dr. Thomas Frieden
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
4770 Buford Hwy NE
Atlanta, GA 30341
Dear Dr. Frieden:
I am writing to request additional information regarding the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s effort to determine a safe level of exposure to 4-Methylcyclohexanemethanol (MCHM) through inhalation and skin exposure.
In cooperation with other federal and state agencies, the CDC established a screening level of 1 ppm for MCHM in the immediate aftermath of the January 9, 2014, chemical spill at Freedom Industries in Charleston. On January 15, 2014, the CDC sent a letter to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources that cast doubt on the 1 ppm standard, stating that pregnant women “may wish” to consider using alternative sources of drinking water even if levels of MCHM were below 1 ppm. I wrote to you the next day to request a detailed accounting as to how the 1 ppm threshold was calculated and the CDC’s confidence that the standard was sufficient to protect West Virginians in the affected area, including vulnerable populations.
On February 26, 2014, I met with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry’s then-Director Dr. Tanja Popovic to receive an update on the CDC’s actions in response to the Freedom Industries spill, as well as to express my continued concern with the CDC’s January 15 letter. Since that time, a preliminary report from the West Virginia Testing Assessment Project (WVTAP) has a set a safety threshold that is lower CDC’s 1 ppm screening standard that accounts for health impacts associated with exposure to MCHM through means other than ingestion.
The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for MCHM prepared by Eastman Chemical Company, in addition to indicating that MCHM is harmful if swallowed, also says that the chemical can cause skin irritation and that “at elevated temperatures, vapor may cause irritation of eyes and respiratory tract.” Flushing instructions advised individuals to run all hot water fixtures for at least 15 minutes, creating a potential risk of exposure to MCHM at high temperatures. Additionally, given that flushing was designed to push MCHM levels below the 1 ppm standard, it was likely that people in the impacted area would continue to be exposed to some level of MCHM through inhalation and direct skin contact, in addition to ingestion, after flushing was completed.
Your response to my January letter stated that a screening level of 1 ppm was unlikely to be associated with adverse health effects, but it is unclear whether that standard was designed to protect against the risks of injury resulting from inhalation or contact with skin. The response indicated that uncertainty regarding MCHM was built into the screening level, but the WVTAP has stated that the CDC only considered ingestion when setting that standard. Additionally, an article in the Charleston Gazette reports that the CDC decided against setting an inhalation standard due to a lack of information.
Given these circumstances, I would appreciate detailed responses to the following questions:
1. Did the CDC consider the health risks of exposure to MCHM through inhalation when it prepared its 1 ppm screening standard?
2. Did the CDC consider the health risks of exposure to MCHM through direct skin contact when it prepared its 1 ppm screening standard?
3. Did the CDC decide not to set a safety standard for exposure to MCHM through means of inhalation due to a lack of information about the amount of the chemical necessary to cause an adverse health effect?
4. If the CDC lacked sufficient information to set a safety threshold for the inhalation of MCHM, why was the decision made to publicly announce the 1 ppm threshold as a generally applicable safety standard? Please explain why the CDC did not instead choose to inform the public that it lacked enough information to set a safety standard for the inhalation of MCHM.
5. Given that the MSDS for MCHM indicated a potential health hazard associated with exposure to MCHM vapor at elevated temperatures, did the CDC make an effort to determine whether flushing hot water taps would heat the MCHM to a level sufficient to cause a health impact?
6. Do the results of Epi-aid survey conducted by the CDC indicate any adverse health effects that result from exposure to MCHM through means other than ingestion, including, but not limited to, inhalation or skin exposure? If so, please describe the conditions caused by such exposure and the number of such cases identified by the CDC.
7. The West Virginia Testing Assessment Panel has stated that its safety standards for MCHM and PCP are protective for all populations, including formula fed infants which it believes are most susceptible to injuries resulting from exposure to chemicals. Does the CDC continue to have confidence in the 1 ppm safety standard for everyone, including infants and children?
If the CDC released a screening standard knowing that it lacked sufficient information to set a threshold that protected against the risk associated with inhaling MCHM vapor – a risk that was listed on the readily available MSDS – then the CDC erred greatly in its mission to protect Americans’ health and safety. The Freedom Industries spill has made it clear that additional information needs to be available for chemicals circulating in the marketplace that may impact human health. In cases where that information is not available, however, health officials should error on the side of informing that public of the uncertainty.
I request your response to this letter no later than Wednesday, April 30. Thank you for your attention to this important public health matter.
Shelley Moore Capito
Member of Congress