Chemical Spill Fallout

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 Laura Jordan of WV American says the "octupus-like" pipelines of WV American feed water to 8 counties in Southern and Central WV. That means even 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 likely be small enough to avoid major health issues. In other words, the contaminant would be diluted as it moves downstream thru major rivers, such that the concentration of the chemical would be muted/diluted.

Late last night FEMA officials confirmed Dr. C's notion that the risks were not overwhelming, rather more inconveniencing.

Then came word from Kanawha County Emergency Manager C.W. Sigman that while 2 to 5 thousand gallons of contaminant spilled,not all made it into the Elk River and hence into the WV American Water treatment plant.

Given the enormous diluting water capacity of the Kanawha and Ohio Rivers downstream from the spill, frankly that sounds like a small amount of chemical, the concentration of the chemical not with-standing.

So I will employ the age old adage when it comes to events like this; namely, the solution to pollution is dilution. This suggests that the farther downstream the contaminant is transported, the lesser the concentration will be.


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