Now, some schools in Kanawha County are being forced to close again because the black-licorice odor associated with the Crude MCHM coal-cleaning chemical is returning, and there are reports of fainting and other side effects while faucets are running—posing questions about the potential dangers of inhaling the water's fumes, as well.Schools were reopened Friday after test results returned a "no-detect" level Thursday afternoon. But, on Friday, Mays reported that the chemical had been detected at George Washington High School, according to Kanawha-Charleston Health Department officials. The level was well below the Centers for Disease Control's recommended level of one part per million, just 18.33 parts per billion. But it's above 10 parts per billion, the "non-detect" level, which the state is using to call schools safe. Classes at the high school were still under way Friday afternoon.
Three Kanawha County schools abruptly closed Thursday after school staff members reported that they'd smelled the odor, and cooks complained of burning eyes and nausea. The incidents mirrored problems at two Belle-area schools on Wednesday, which also were forced to dismiss students early.
Richard Denison, a senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund who has been following the aftermath of the spill, warned that the CDC's one ppm recommendation is based on ingesting the chemical. Inhalation of MCHM fumes like that occurring at the schools is another matter, Denison told the Gazette. "There is no data directly on what levels are safe in the air," Denison said. "The notion that [the CDC number] gives you any information about safe levels in the air is just false."
The superintendent for the Kanawha County schools said a "response team" made up of National Guard and health officials are handling random sampling of drinking water. But there are no plans for air-quality monitoring. Denison warned that school officials should not try to downplay any reported symptoms.
That, of course, is what West Virginia politicians and corporations have been doing for decades about the chemical brew that plagues the state, fighting any attempt at tightening regulations.