Good news for W Va – That’s OLD formaldehyde in your drinking water!

  • Published on January 30th, 2014

By Meteor Blades

An environmental scientist in West Virginia said in a Wednesday legislative hearing that water samples he had taken from a downtown Charleston site contained formaldehyde—and that this had convinced him not to drink the water. The scientist, Scott Simonton, attributed the findings to a byproduct of the Jan. 9 Freedom Industries’ spill of MCHM, a coal-cleaning chemical.

But that’s contrary to the views of officials at the state Department of Health and Human Sources and other experts who took strong issue with Simonton’s report on the matter. Simonton is an environmental engineer at Marshall University, a member of the state’s Environmental Quality Board and a consultant for a law firm that has filed a suit over the spill.

Ken Ward Jr. and David Gutman at the Charleston Gazette report:

Early Wednesday evening, the state Department of Health and Human Resources issued a statement that called Simonton’s comments regarding formaldehyde “totally unfounded” and said his testimony “does not speak to the health and safety of West Virginians.”Dr. Letitia Tierney, commissioner of the Bureau for Public Health, said Wednesday evening that the chemists the state had consulted with all said the formaldehyde could not have come from the MCHM.

“Our experts are all in agreement that it’s unlikely that his findings are in any way related to the chemical spill,” she said. “It’s already in our environment.”

Elizabeth Sharman of the West Virginia Poison Center also weighed in:

“People shouldn’t just take the statement of, ‘Oh we found formaldehyde in the water,’ and have that be a scary statement in itself,” Scharman said. “What we’re trying to let people know is that formaldehyde can be found in the water and it can be found in the air, and just put that in perspective.”

Although the main ingredient in Crude MCHM, 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol, contains methanol, which can break down into formaldehyde, Tierney said it has to be treated to 500 degrees Fahrenheit to do so.

The U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry says the risks of irritation from formaldehyde are “medium” at 100 parts per billion. Simonton found 32 parts per billion at a single sampling location.

Meanwhile, Simonton and others say the flushing of pipes authorities recommended residents undertake to remove the MCHM isn’t achieving its goal:

Starting Jan. 13, water company officials and the state began a weeklong process of lifting broad “do not use” orders for sections of the nine-county area impacted by the MCHM leak. After the order was lifted, residents were advised to run their hot water for 15 minutes, their cold water for 5 minutes, and their outside faucets for 5 minutes to flush the chemical from their homes.But since then, residents have continued to complain that the black-licorice smell of the chemical is lingering, especially in their hot water. […]

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had said in internal documents that flushing the chemicals out of the system “may require a fairly prolonged time to complete,” perhaps two to three weeks.

Neither the state nor American Water, the company that supplies potable water to customers in the nine counties affected by the spill, have any plans to test water in people’s homes.

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