Chemical leak in W.Va. shows gaps in research, policy

Feb 19, 2014

The chemical leak that contaminated drinking water in the Charleston, W.Va., area last month put in sharp relief the shortcomings of the policies and research that apply to thousands of chemicals in use today. An article in Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), the weekly magazine of the American Chemical Society, delves into the details of the accident that forced 300,000 residents to live on bottled water for days.

A team of C&EN reporters and editors note that the main that leaked into the water supply is an obscure one called 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol, or MCHM, which has a black licorice scent. Freedom Industries, the company that owned the leaking tank, used it to process coal. Freedom hypothesizes that the ground beneath the tank froze and caused it to rupture. As a result, an estimated 10,000 gallons of crude MCHM and associated material flowed into the nearby Elk River. Soon after, residents reported a licorice smell in their water, with some also experiencing rashes, mild burns and stomach upset.

To what degree MCHM affects long-term human and fetal health is a major concern for residents because of the lack of complete toxicology and other studies on the chemical. This gap of information goes back to the timing of the chemical's commercialization and subsequent scaling-up that largely allowed it to slip through regulatory holes. The tests that have been done suggest that MCHM is a skin and eye irritant. The lack of information has spurred more research and discussion on how to improve the handling of such accidents in the future.

Explore further: Dismantling Syria's chemical weapons in the midst of war

More information: "Obscure Chemical Taints Water Supply" cen.acs.org/articles/92/i7/Obs… ts-Water-Supply.html

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Dismantling Syria's chemical weapons in the midst of war

Nov 20, 2013

Syria no longer has the capacity to produce new chemical weapons en masse, but arms control experts caution that what remains is the more difficult job of destroying the existing stockpile in the midst of the country's brutal ...

Cleaner fracking

Oct 17, 2012

The technology that opened a wealth of new natural gas resources in the U.S. is producing millions of gallons of dirty water—enough from one typical gas well to cover a football field to a depth of 9-15 feet. Cleaning up ...

Predicting health risks of everyday chemicals

Oct 16, 2013

Concern over the safety of everyday household products, such as baby bottles and soaps, has spurred a wide-ranging research effort into predicting the health risks of tens of thousands of chemicals. That's the topic of the ...

Lima billboard is tapped for drinking water

Feb 25, 2013

(Phys.org)—A billboard in Lima, Peru, created by ad agency Mayo DraftCFB in collaboration with the University of Engineering and Technology (UTEC), captures the air's humidity and turns it into potable ...

Research boom on ingredients for 'enhanced cosmetics'

May 16, 2012

Growing demand among baby boomers and others for "enhanced cosmetics" that marry cosmetics and active ingredients to smooth wrinkled skin and otherwise improve appearance is fostering research on micro-capsules and other ...

Recommended for you

Shell files new plan to drill in Arctic

12 hours ago

Royal Dutch Shell has submitted a new plan for drilling in the Arctic offshore Alaska, more than one year after halting its program following several embarrassing mishaps.

Reducing water scarcity possible by 2050

13 hours ago

Water scarcity is not a problem just for the developing world. In California, legislators are currently proposing a $7.5 billion emergency water plan to their voters; and U.S. federal officials last year ...

User comments : 0