CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A researcher at West Virginia University says preliminary data shows flushing did not change MCHM levels in the tap water in four homes, all of which were located in the nine county area where a do-not-use water order was issued following a Jan. 9 leak of crude MCHM and PPH along the Elk River.

Dr. Jennifer Weidhaas, with WVU’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, lead a team that tested hot and cold lines along with exterior lines at the homes before and after the flushing protocol West Virginia American Water Company prescribed last month when individual water zones were cleared to resume regular water usage.

“It (MCHM) was detectable in all cases, both the cold and hot water lines, and, unfortunately, the flushing campaign was as not effective at reducing those concentrations as I think (West Virginia) American Water wanted them to do,” said Weidhaas.

All of the MCHM levels in the homes tested, Weidhass noted, fell below the one part per million “safe” standard the Centers for Disease Control established both before and after flushing.

She said there could be any number of reasons why the levels of crude MCHM were higher, in some cases, in the tested homes after the three part flushing process — a recommendation to run hot faucets for 15 minutes, cold faucets for five minutes and exterior faucets for five minutes.

“They could have pulled slightly higher concentration water to their houses as they were flushing, given how different people started to flush their houses during the day,” explained Weidhaas.  “Certain folks closer to the treatment plant may have flushed after folks that were farther away from the treatment plant.”

Weidhaas is one of three scientists using $150,000 in emergency grant funding from the National Science Foundation to study the health effects of MCHM, the coal processing chemical that was being stored in the leaky tank at Freedom Industries.  Up to now, the chemical has only been tested on rats.

In addition to Weidhaas’ work to assess the extent of contamination in the drinking water, Andrew Whelton from the University of South Alabama is looking at the chemical’s absorption into drinking water pipes, especially those in homes, while Andrea Dietrich from Virginia Tech is examining the environmental effects of MCHM.

In the coming months, Weidhaas said all of those involved will be working to, first, determine exposure levels to MCHM by mapping that exposure and, second, establish the actual toxic effects of the compound.

“Given the magnitude of this disaster and the number of people who were exposed, at this point, the researchers need to pick up the ball and answer different questions that an emergency responder, who’s currently down in Charleston, doesn’t have the time to answer,” Weidhaas said on Wednesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

“The emergency responders and the CDC are going off the best information we have to date and now we need to fill in the gap, in the next few months, to determine, yes, that was an acceptable level or not.”

Weidhaas continued, “We have to, at some point, trust in the science that’s already there.  I have to give credit to (West Virginia) American Water and the state folks down there, they’re doing the best they can in an extremely difficult position,” she said.

Officials with the National Science Foundation have called the Elk River chemical leak “one of the largest human-made environmental disasters in this century.”

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  • Elizabeth Blackburn

    How can we believe anything about the water until our homes are tested. This is a very serious problem and someone needs to do something.

  • jfk

    have they thought about testing the pipes for build up of this stuff?

  • Larry

    I think everyone should be forced to move out of the affected area.

  • Friends of truth

    Uncle I was wrong about my non detect statement. I think a more far accurate headline based on the science would be" all samples were below the safe health standard set by CDC. There is far more propaganda on the media and social media that the sky is falling and everybody is a crook than there is that everything is okay. The media has had some good moments early but in their greed to stretch this out they are starting to fabricate headlines and story angles.

    • Kevin

      The media can't blow this too far out of proportion! We've got no idea what we're dealing with, nobody does! We have no idea of the long term ramifications, and we should be cautious if not afraid! The "sky is falling" attitudes are justified! I have a 6 yr old niece that I would like to see grow up without ill effects from MCHM! 15 years from now when you're crying about your health concerns, or the fact that your child has 2 heads or 3 arms, you'll wish you'd have done more! Drink up pal!

      • Friends of truth

        I agree about being very careful about the children and I agree about the unknown. But amigo I would bet the farm that in 15 years based on the relatively low concentrations and limited exposures at the period of the highest concentrations that there are no long term impacts. Bet is hypothetical because probably won't be there in 15 years to collect.Please share with us your documentation of why there will be issues in the future.


    The Water Company does NOT test for ALL Chemicals, only the one that they "think" is in Elk River.

    It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that Elk River is full of chemicals from "Fracking" to Mining north of the Water Company intake(s).

    Thus welcome to the " Cancer Valley"

  • Friends of truth

    This sounds like a Ken Ward jr headline and story. The doctor indicated that all of her samples were below the threshold and some were undetectable. And this is the story you come up with. We have come to expect better reporting from wv radio than Ken Ward jr's unethical unsubstantiated flame throwing.

    • Francis

      @ Friends of Truth: The '1ppm' standard that I believe you are referring to was literally 'made up' by the CDC AFTER this spill was reported on Jan 9th. The identified chemical (4-methylcyclohexanemethanol) has never been tested on humans. There is no short term data (other than what has been collected since Jan 9th) and no long term data regarding what this chemical may or may not do to you. Methane is a highly toxic chemical and known carcinogen, and it is simply a component of this complex organic compound. (also not taking into account what was already in the water or what was also released by Freedom and not reported.) A chemical reaction (oxidation) occurred when chlorine mixed with the 4-MCHM- (at the treatment facility) the additional organic compounds created in this reaction could be very toxic. These compounds (and their potential short and long term effects) are still unknown. If you choose to drink the water and participate in this experiment, then that is up to you. Please do not attempt to drag other people into doing so with your false, politically motivated, and biased rhetoric. It never hurts to err on the side of caution. My 2 cents since everyone has an opinion? DON'T DRINK THE WATER. There are still a lot more questions than answers.

      • Friendsoftruth

        Document how cdc made up their standard on the spot. There has been speculation of chlorine with the organics but no confirmation. But I believe headlines that do not reflect the actual story or facts do not help the debate. Ken Ward is the master of this and bullying those who don't agree with him . There are real issues and concerns here and people as they should be are scared and confused. Using fabricated headlines to confuse and scare them more does not help deal with this.

        • Tim McKinney

          FOT? Sounds like you worked for Union Carbide once upon a time? Attacking the media doesn't change the liability on this one? Freedom, WVAW, and the political establishment there is on the hook for this screw up. I believe its safe to say that a 6 oz glass of Orange Juice and a 6 oz glass of MCHM for breakfast would pose a simple choice for most West Virginians? However you seem to prefer MCHM with your Eggs, so after you get thru defending the defendants take a big gulp for all of us who prefer our water clean.

          • Friendsoftruth

            Tim. I don't really think you have the heart for anger. Eggs and orange juice. That cuts to the heart. Give me a clue. I think you are lip syncing anger

          • Friendsof the truth

            Brother freedom and the water company will both pay some settlement and freedom may face criminal charges as they should. Dep and EPA were negligent in regulations or enforcement. There is no one of the 300,000 of us that don't want the water to be clean.

    • Uncle Unctuous

      I'm sorry that the article is insufficiently propagandistic for you.

      I'm looking at your comment that "some were undetectable," and I'm looking at the following quote from the article:

      “It (MCHM) was detectable in all cases, both the cold and hot water lines, and, unfortunately, the flushing campaign was as not effective at reducing those concentrations as I think (West Virginia) American Water wanted them to do,” said Weidhaas.

      "Detectable in all cases" does not quite equate to "some were undetectable."

      • Rich

        While you're correct, the takeaway is that the levels were below the established safe standard both before and after flushing.

        • mike

          “The emergency responders and the CDC are going off the best information we have to date and now we need to fill in the gap, in the next few months, to determine, yes, that was an acceptable level or not.”

          Yeah, sounds like they're real confidant about that "established safe standard." The whole point is there's nothing established about this chemical.

  • TheFungoKnows

    Now its time to hold the water company officials AND government officials criminally accountable for the decision to leave the water company intakes on during the leak. The reason given, to keep water pressure up for emergencies doesn't fly. Poisoning 300,000 people should have its consequences.
    Holding the Freedom Industries officials accountable is the first step. But lets not forget to take the other steps and hold others just as accountable.