CBS: "Many W.Va. residents do not consider their water safe despite assurances."
The ban has been lifted on all of West Virginia American Water’s customers to use and drink their water. But many of the 300,000 residents affected by the coal industry chemical spill remain doubtful, and not surprising given the appearance of what's coming out of their taps, warnings from health care professionals and the Center for Disease Control (CDC), as well as conflicting and lack of information about just what is in those "coal cleaning chemicals" that contaminated the Elk River water supply.
At a press conference on Monday, West Virginia Gov. Ray Tomblin told residents:
"It's your decision, if you do not feel comfortable drinking or cooking with this water, then use bottled water."
"I'm not a scientist," adding that whether the detection limit is 10 parts per billion or 1 part per billion, the concentration involved "is still minuscule."
Of primary concern is the fact that it is still unclear what exactly spilled and whether or not the proper tests have been conducted. Crude MCHM is a mixture of six chemicals but only the pure form of the main ingredient, 4-MCHM, has been studied. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) set the 1 part per million threshold based on one study of 4-MCHM conducted by Eastman Chemical Company in 1991.West Virginia inspectors had previously visited Freedom Industries in 2010 -- the site of the chemical spill -- when a nearby resident complained about a strong odor of licorice, the same smell that led officials to the spill January 9, according to a report from the Associated Press.
“If crude MCHM is truly what leaked, it’s possible that we don’t even know which of this ‘cocktail’ is most harmful,” Evan Hansen, environmental consultant with the Morgantown-based Downstream Strategies said in an earlier interview with Climate Progress. “We could have set a threshold based on the wrong one. We may be testing the wrong one.”
Of the Eastman study used by the CDC to set its guidelines, Wired science writer Deborah Blum notes, “there is no human toxicity data. These are studies in species ranging from fathead minnows to rabbits.” The Eastman studies told the company’s scientists that “this was not one of the worst compounds out there — but not one of the benign ones either.” And the lack of mutagenic effects they found would be more assuring, Blum writes, “if that finding had been verified by, say, anyone else, if someone, besides the company that manufactures the compound, could vouch for its safety.”
In 2010, inspectors noted that Freedom Industries ..."should file paperwork to see if it needed a permit for the chemical that caused the odor." Freedom submitted the paperwork, and it was determined that no permit was necessary.
Freedom Industries not surprisingly filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on January 17th.