Posted by: Dr Churchill | January 13, 2014

People in West Virginia are being used as guinea pigs when Coal Chemical spill in Charleston West Virginia mixes it up with the towns’ drinking water supply

People in West Virginia are being used as guinea pigs when Coal Chemical spill in Charleston West Virginia mixes it up with the towns’ drinking water supply

About 300,000 residents have been told to use tap water only for flushing toilets since Thursday’s chemical spill contaminated the Elk River and the water supply of nine West Virginia counties.

The little known chemical, “Crude MCHM,” is used in coal processing and leaked out of a 35,000-gallon tank owned by Freedom Industries, a chemical distributor based in Charleston and Nitro. A retaining wall surrounding the tank, supposed to serve as a failsafe, was scheduled for $1 million in repairs.

The chemical that contaminated West Virginia’s Elk River is one among tens of thousands of industrial compounds that haven’t been tested for their risks to human health, several experts said Friday. Water quality authorities now trying to certify when local tap water might be safe again have little to guide them.

“West Virginia is getting a hard lesson in how little we know about these chemicals,” said environmental engineer Scott Simonton at Marshall University in Charleston, W.Va., who studies water quality…
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that levels of the chemical must be below 1-part-per-million for safe use, but it is not clear how that figure was derived.
Grant said that it initially took them 24 hours to develop a method to analyze the chemical in the water, but they have gotten much more efficient, reducing the time it takes to test one sample from 46 minutes to 18 minutes.

On Saturday afternoon, Jeff McIntyre, president of West Virginia American Water Company, said that they are testing water around the clock to determine the concentration of Crude MCHM but he refused to release the results of those tests.

He said West Virginia American’s system, by far the largest water utility in the state, was too big to judge with a limited number of samples.

At a press briefing late Saturday evening, the Tomblin administration reversed course and released water sampling results.

Officials said the most recent tests showed some results that were below the 1-part-per-million level — 0.75 and 0.62 for example — but that others had spiked above that amount. One fire hydrant recently tested at 1.39 parts-per-million.

A sheet of test results provided by Tomblin’s office showed that eight out of 18 recent test results tested above 1 part per million.

Initial tests, conducted prior to the National Guard’s involvement, showed levels as high as 2 to 3 parts per million.

“We’re trending in that direction,” Grant said. “we initially had some numbers that were 2 to 3 parts per million. Now we’re down below one part per million,”

Grant said officials would conduct more than 100 water tests overnight and the same amount throughout the day Sunday.

Dorsey said the cleanup is working.

“The reason the numbers are going down is we believe less of the material is getting into the water,” Dorsey said. “We have cut of the source of the leak, the tank. There is still material under the concrete and the soil. We’ve taken aggressive measures on the shore line below the site.”

Public health officials said they need to see 24 straight hours of results below 1 part per million before the water company can begin flushing the system.

“These individual samples are like a puzzle piece and we have a bunch of puzzle pieces but we don’t have a picture yet,” McIntyre said.

McIntyre said that once water service is returned, the company would offer residential customers a credit for 1,000 gallons of water to allow them to flush contaminated water through their pipes.

Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Karen Bowling said 73 people had gone to area emergency rooms and five have been admitted to hospitals with chemical-related symptoms.

“I think it’s valid that people are beginning to understand that if you have signs and symptoms, we certainly want you to seek medical attention,” Bowling said. “But we also want people to understand that, again, if everyone followed the precautions as indicated, … then we believe there will be less and less people reporting with irritation — eye irritation, nausea and vomiting.”

Mike Dorsey, with the state Department of Environmental Protection, said they now think 7,500 gallons of Crude MCHM leaked into the river.

That’s a big increase from previous estimates, which pegged the leak at 2,000 to 5,000 gallons.

Dorsey said the chemical leaked out of a one-inch hole in the 35,000-gallon steel tank.

Faced with limited information and no regulatory guidelines on a chemical that’s put drinking water off limits for 300,000 West Virginians, government scientists have come up with a level of Crude MCHM they believe is safe.

Federal and state officials have put out a number — 1 part per million — and are noting hopefully that chemical concentrations in the region’s Elk River water supply are dropping ever closer to that figure.

At the same time, officials in the Tomblin administration and with West Virginia American Water are refusing to make public the results of their testing. And they’re saying precious little about how the number was derived, or what exactly it really means.

Bernadette Burden, a senior press officer for the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, said federal officials believe “this number is extremely conservative and protective of public health.”

And local officials are publicly assuring residents that ATSDR and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention devised the figure, and that experts with those agencies should be trusted on the matter.

“Not only are experts from West Virginia reviewing the samples, but experts from the U.S. EPA, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are reviewing the samples to be sure that the system is safe before it is reopened,” said Dr. Letitia Tierney, commissioner for the state Department of Health and Human Resources’ Bureau for Public Health. “All of this is being done to ensure the public health and safety of our citizens.

After National Guard Gen. James Hoyer first mentioned the figure Friday afternoon, Amy Goodwin, spokeswoman for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, referred questions about it to Tierney. Late Friday night, Tierney initially declined to answer questions about how the figure was derived, saying she hadn’t done the work and did not want to “walk down this path” of explaining it.

Later, Tierney provided some details in an email message forwarded by an agency media spokesman.

In the email message, Tierney explained that the CDC looked for relevant studies of the chemical’s health effects but found only one — a 1990 study by Eastman, maker of the product, that was not published in peer-reviewed literature and is considered proprietary.

That study, she said, was the basis for the median lethal dose, or LD50, listed on an Eastman “material safety data sheet,” or MSDS that’s been circulated by local emergency responders, health officials and the media.

On that MSDS, the LD50 for Crude MCHM is listed as 825 milligrams per kilogram. This means that, when tested on rats, an 825 milligram dose per kilogram of body weight was enough to kill half the rats.


People in West Virginia are being used as guinea pigs…
Here is how they arrive at what is considered ‘safe’ chemical levels in the water:

Here’s how Tierney said CDC experts took that LD50 and came up with the 1-part-per-million figure that West Virginia officials are now citing as a safe level in local water:

“The experts then took this number and calculated the uncertainty factors,” she wrote. “In this situation there were two. The first uncertainty factor was translating these results from rats to humans. The second uncertainty factor took into account sensitive populations. This includes the elderly, the sick, the immuno-compromised and children, amongst others.

“Uncertainty factors range from 5 to 10 percent,” she wrote. “Given the dearth of data and an abundance of caution, both uncertainty factors were rated at 10 percent.”

This, Tierney explained, changed the level that would cause death to 8.25 milligrams per kilogram of body weight.

LD50 figures, though, consider only death. They would tell officials nothing about what levels at which chemical exposure would cause other health effects, even serious ones.

To address this, they changed the figure to 1 milligram per kilogram of body weight, which is equal to 1 part per million.

It’s not clear though — and Tierney did not explain — the scientific basis for the change from 8.25 milligrams per kilogram to 1 milligram per kilogram.

But Dr. Elizabeth Scharman, director of the West Virginia Poison Center, reviewed the issue and said she’s comfortable with Tierney’s explanation of it.

“There are processes and decision algorithms that are used based on all of the data that is known,” Scharman said.

“In this case, it is the entire toxicity profile of a chemical that is unknown. However, predictions are based on what we don’t know looking at the chemistry and the available data,” she said.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: