CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Chief Health Officer for the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department said medical monitoring should have already started in the parts of nine West Virginia counties where a Jan. 9 chemical leak made tap water unusable for days.

Dr. Rahul Gupta said 300,000 West Virginians are unwillingly part of the “first live human experiment” of the long-term effects of crude MCHM and PPH, coal processing chemicals.

Up to now, the effects of MCHM have only been tested on rats.

“The idea of medical monitoring, or surveillance, is to make sure that we identify the health effects at an early and, hopefully, at a reversible stage,” said Gupta.  “It is very important and crucial that we have a program, such as this, developed, implemented in a rapid manner at a local level so that we can start to see people.”

More health questions tied to water quality were raised on Wednesday when Dr. Scott Simonton, a Marshall University professor and vice chairman of the West Virginia Environmental Quality Board, told a group of state lawmakers he found formaldehyde while testing water, at the request of an attorney, in downtown Charleston.

Simonton said he believed the formaldehyde was a breakdown product from the crude MCHM that leaked from a tank, belonging to Freedom Industries, into the Elk River, the water source for the Kanawha Valley Water Treatment Plant.  He said formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen and is considered most toxic when it is inhaled.

Gupta said Simonton’s claims should be fully vetted.  “It is very important to make sure that we do the data (research), do the due diligence that’s required before we make statements, clear statements,” he said on Thursday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

Dr. Letitia Tierney, commissioner of the West Virginia Bureau of Public Health and State Health Officer, agreed.  She said there are many questions about how Simonton conducted his water quality tests.

“Dr. Simonton made comments to the lawmakers that, I feel, only raised concerns and fears to an already anxious population,” she said.  “I understand that there are lots of people who are frustrated about this water incident.”

Tierney said water quality experts, who have been assisting West Virginia through the water emergency response, indicated the only possible way for formaldehyde to come from MCHM would be if it was combusted at 500 degrees.

The World Health Organization said formaldehyde is the aldehyde most frequently found in nature and is naturally measurable in air and water.  Formaldehyde, WHO experts said, is created through the normal breakdown cycle of plants and animals and dissolves easily in water.

The analysts also pointed out formaldehyde is found in products like antiseptics, medicines, cosmetics, dishwashing liquids, fabric softeners, shoe care agents, carpet cleaners, glues and adhesives, lacquers, paper, plastics and some types of wood products.

In a statement issued on Wednesday evening, officials with West Virginia American Water Company said it was “misleading and irresponsible” for someone to voice their opinion without all of the facts.

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  • Kimberley

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  • Richey

    It may be years before the results of the "experiment" are in. Think "Agent Orange" or "Love Canal". Monitoring those in the affected areas is a must.
    We should be glad to have Dr. Rahul Gupta working on our behalf.
    Also, Kenny Bass did an EXCELLENT job at the Town Hall Meeting, as did the rest of the WCHS staff. We should be thankful to have such a team working hard in our market.

  • Enviro_Mic2

    The question no one is asking is if Dr Gupta doesn't trust the water or as he puts it we're unsure if it's safe -- and admits he is not drinking the water himself, why the $&@$ did he allow restaurants to open, and serve people. He's worried about my health for consuming but allows the restaurants to serve me water from the tap?? He will blame the state or someone else but it is the health departments call. Can someone explain this to me? I'm not a fan of Dr Gupta but he is making some contradictory statements if you listen. Likes the attention though. Agree?

    • Mertz

      Good point. I hadn't thought about that.

  • John Pignato

    Thanks for pointing out how omnipresent the carcinogen formaldehyde is.

    Are you suggesting that this makes adding to our carcinogenic load a good thing ? Or just inevitable ?

    If carcinogenic additions come from tap water via contact, ingestion and inhalation are you saying that is unavoidable ? So, just give up ? Ignore it ? Live with it ? Pooh-pooh it ?

    Is that the professional thing to do ? Is it the political thing to do ?

    Does inhalation pose significant risk additions since a volatile chemical like MCHM would lead to exposures during showering and also cooking when the steam goes into the air ? Further, are inhalation exposures especially concerning since the chemical goes right from the lungs directly into the bloodstream. Is this different from ingestion (from food and drinking water), where chemicals are usually metabolized in the liver during digestion, before going into the blood stream. The liver can reduce the toxicity of many chemicals. So, are inhalation exposures always of great concern ?

    Is minimizing additional carcinogenic risks from a new source responsible ?

    Can you say than any additional carcinogenic load is safe ? A good idea ? Can be safely ignored ?

  • Wirerowe

    I heard Dr. Tierney's interview on Hoppy this morning. She was compassionate, sensitive to the public's opinion, knowledgable and reassuring. She is very good. The lawyers and the nuts will shout her down. The Governor has a strong knowledgeable professional in that post.

  • Polly the Pundit

    "In a statement issued on Wednesday evening, officials with West Virginia American Water Company said it was “misleading and irresponsible” for someone to voice their opinion without all of the facts."

    WV American Water Comapny told us that it was safe to drink the water...
    (a) before they knew PPH was in it...
    (b) when the thought less than 5,000 gallons of MCHM had leaked...
    (c) after they learned, "about 7,500 gallons" of MCHM had leaked but...
    (d) before the learned that over 10,000 gallons of MCHM had leaked...
    (e) before they found out the CDC recommended level of 1 ppm was for pure MCHM, not Crude MCHM...
    (f) before they found out their flushing process was insufficient...
    (g) after they found out that their, "state-of-the-art" carbon filtration system(s) wouldn't catch a chemical that was stored in bulk a mile upstream from their plant...

    Excuse me, am I missing who is misleading and irresponsible here?

    • Wirerowe

      The answer to your question is the water company and the law firm Peterson and whatever.

    • jfk

      down goes wvawc DOWN GOES WVAWC!!

    • jfk

      down goes wvawc

    • hilljack

      Amen to that Polly!

  • Can'twejustgetalong

    The law firm that paid for the water testing should voluntarily go before an ethics hearing before a lawyer's ethics hearing if there is such a thing. I think scaring the hell out of 300,000 people with scant evidence would qualify

    • Charleston

      Well stated!

  • Wvsasha

    "“misleading and irresponsible” for someone to voice their opinion without all of the facts""

    Well isn't that kind of what everyone has been doing all long?

    • jfk