CDC Dr. Vikas Kapil

The chemical crude MCHM left behind this residue in a South Charleston family's bathtub following the flushing process. The CDC said again Thursday the water is safe to use with the chemical density below 1 part per million.
Courtesy photo
The chemical crude MCHM left behind this residue in a South Charleston family's bathtub following the flushing process. The CDC said again Thursday the water is safe to use with the chemical density below 1 part per million.

ATLANTA, Ga. — A chief medical officer with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control said Thursday he believes the water in the cleared zones of West Virginia’s water emergency is safe to drink.

Dr. Vikas Kapil, chief medical officer for the CDC National Center for Environmental Health, said he’s basing that decision on the water quality levels he has seen in recent days.

“We stand by the 1-part-per-million guidance and we think that’s not likely to be associated with adverse health effects,” Kapil said during a late afternoon conference call with reporters.

The state turned to the CDC for help last week after 7,500 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol—known as crude MCHM—leaked into the Elk River just above West Virginia American Water’s Kanawha Valley plant. That facility provides water to approximately 300,000 residents in parts of nine counties.

The company issued a do-not-use water order following the spill, though in the past three days most customers have been cleared to flush their home systems and begin using the water again.

Kapil confirmed there haven’t been many studies on crude MCHM and he said he could find none on its long-term effects on humans. So he arrived at his calculation of a safe water quality level of 1 part per million from a study on how the chemical affected an animal when that animal ingested it.

“So we use whatever information we do have and we try and use that animal data to take from that what may be exposure levels in humans,” Kapil said.

He admitted the lack of information concerns scientists and the public.

“This is a dynamic and moving event. There are many things happening and we are trying to do our best,” he said. “We certainly do understand that people are concerned. There are uncertainties. There is little known about this material.”

The CDC issued an advisory recommending pregnant women in the nine-county region continue to drink bottled water until the chemical is no longer present in the water system. Kapil said that recommendation was made out of “an abundance of caution,” because there are no reproduction studies on crude MCHM.

While aspects of environmental health are difficult to quantify, Kapil said the CDC carefully assesses the risk to impacted citizens. He stressed the agency is comfortable with the guidance it has given to state health officials.

“We can’t always answer all of the questions that people have—at least not initially—in these kinds of circumstances. We have very carefully looked at the available data. We have applied very significant safety and certainty factors to that. We have a screening level that is not associated with any adverse health effects.”

Allowing the water to be used for drinking and cooking and other things is “perfectly appropriate,” Kapil said.

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Comments

  • Uncle Unctuous

    So to paraphrase, "We know next to nothing about this stuff in your water, but one thing we know is that your water is safe."

  • HOSA

    Freedom Industries files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy; lawsuits against company on pause.

  • David

    Regardless what is in the water right now it is still cleaner than in the late 60's and 70's.

  • HOSA

    The Koch Brothers and the Teaparty Republicans want to eliminate all enviorenmental regulations so corporations can pollute the enviorenment freely in their quest for big bucks, without consequences. When will republicans wake up and realize that the people they are voting for, do not have their best interests at heart?
    Nearly every House Republican voted in support of HR 2279, including WV representatives, David McKinley and Shelley Capito. Only five Democrats voted in favor. Unbelievably, one of the five Democrats who supported this bill was WV’s Nick Rahall. The bill passed the House with 225 supporting votes and 188 opposing votes.
    The bill shifts the cost of clean up efforts onto the public.
    The bill also weakens the government’s power to force corporations like Freedom Industries to carry insurance designed to cover the cost of potential clean up efforts. Republicans claim they passed the bill because protecting citizens from the harmful effects of toxic spills is just “wasteful government spending.” The bill would shift the burden of the cost of clean up after such spills away from the companies responsible, and onto the public.

    • Randy c

      When did they start using this chemical to "clean coal" with it? Was it recently? or has it been used for a very long time? Those are the questions we need to ask. It seems the CDC doesn't know much about which may suggest it's use for cleaning coal is recent. Like under the Obama EPA maybe?

    • Larry

      The Democrat party has controlled WV as long as anyone reading this has been alive, how's that worked out for us?

  • Larry

    In other news, smoking is still very dangerous and definitely causes cancer, so I assume all smokers who say they will not drink the water will also immediately stop smoking.

  • Mason County Contrarian

    Where are all the anti-EPAers now?

    Wow guv this will really attract economic development, won't it? The state will be lucky if the nine-county region doesn't become an economic wasteland.

  • Dave, just Dave.

    I'm 99.99% sure the residue in that tub is from the pipes having been roiled due to the flushing, not the chemical in question.

    That said if I were in WVAmWater's service area I would not use the water for food prep, cooking and drinking. Period. This is all being rushed due to one thing ... money. Businesses are losing it, governments are losing it and WVAmWater is losing it.

    I hate to say it but I don't trust those involved.

  • TheFungoKnows

    DO NOT TRUST THE GOVERNMENT!!!!!

    DO NOT TRUST THE POLITICIANS!!!!

    DO NOT TRUST THE WATER!!!!!!!!

    DO NOT DRINK THE WATER!!!!!

    IT IS NOT SAFE!!!!!!

    WV American Water Co. is privately telling their employees to not let their families drink or consume the water.

    The contanimant has infiltrated the machinery and they cannot get it out at the plant.

    Never, ever again will I drink tap water that is produce from this water plant.

    • No-name

      "infiltrated the machinery" can be resolved, somehow ,without 100% replacing infrastructure:
      -- hard surfaces can be cleaned (steel, porcelain, epoxy lined tanks, metal water lines, etc.)
      -- dump and replace purification beds and filters
      -- remove and replace plastic or composite parts, such as gaskets or perhaps even miles of polyethylene water mains and supply lines if it turns out that chemical permeated plastic while water was sitting stagnant in lines
      -- selectively replace contaminated equipment, even changing to some other type in light of whatever they learned from this

      They *can* get it out and they can prevent picking up more. It takes money and engineering.

      ORSANCO (orsanco.org) apparently does have some real-time analysis of the water as it tracks this release down the Ohio River, where it is being further diluted. They are relying on activated charcoal filters to remove the trace amounts in many of those water systems. That's like having one giant test apparatus ot observe.

      I am starting to think that Charleston's problem is (perhaps) that there is still chemical leeching out of soil at the leak site.

    • Dave, just Dave.

      I wouldn't doubt that the system is so contaminated and in ways we can't comprehend that the only real solution to getting this chemical out of the water is to 100% replace the entire infrastructure. Instead, the powers that be are going to come up with an "acceptable" level of an obscure contaminant, hope for the best and change things as necessary as time goes on.

      This is going to be in the Charleston drinking water forever.

      • Randy c

        Forever, I don't believe, is accurate. If you read the MSDS for this chemical, it has a half-life, which means it will break down on it's own over time. In water, it's half life is two weeks. It's already been one week. At best the chemical shouldn't be present anywhere in the system for longer than a couple months, perhaps.
        http://online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/Eastman.pdf

  • ernie

    I always drank tap water before. But I won't be drinking it again for along time if ever. However, the residue in the tub is from the crud in the pipes stirred up from the flushing.

  • Mike

    The one thing I have not heard anything about is if it was used to wash coal where does the waste go after coal is washed? Into the ground water? I have had well water for 15 years. I live in coal country. Have I been drinking it?
    All we have talked about it WVAM and there cusomers and the danger to there customers. My question is what happens to this stuff after coal is washed??? Is it caught and picked up as a waste or is it just dumped into the ground to go into my water...

  • I'm honest at least

    No way in hell would I or my family drink that water right now. And I don't care who says its safe.

  • incredulous

    Sure, it's safe. So safe that pregnant women can't drink it. So safe that they pulled the water buffalos that were filled with water from Charleston.

    Now I know where Baghdad Bob works.

  • rick

    There are a whole lot worse things in the water than this.

  • RANDY

    Stupidest headline in history of stupid headlines

  • WEST VIRGINIAN

    What's a little bit of Poison between friends?