WASHINGTON, D.C., — Two federal agencies have agreed to look further at the medical impact of the chemical that spilled into the Elk River in January causing a water emergency in parts of nine West Virginia counties.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s office said the agreement came out of a meeting Wednesday between U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, state DHHR Secretary Karen Bowling, Kanawha-Charleston Health Department Director Dr. Rahul Gupta, the Centers for Disease Control and others in Washington, D.C.
The National Toxicology Program has told the state it will finance laboratory studies. The studies of MCHM will focus on laboratory animals. It’s expected to cost as much as $1.2 million, which the NTP will finance.
“They will study not only the toxicology of animals but also the statistical computerized modeling to see the effects on humans,” Dr. Gupta told MetroNews following the meeting.
Also, the CDC has agreed to work with state officials on a possible long-term medical monitoring program. A CDC team will travel to West Virginia in the coming months to have those discussions.
State DHHR Secretary Bowling said it’s not yet clear if long-term medical monitoring will be needed. She said that will be the focus of the future meetings.
“That’s going to be our next level of discussion when the CDC brings their experts into West Virginia so we can work with them to make those determinations,” Bowling said. “A lot of it will really depend on the results of the (animal) study.”
Gupta said the studies by the NTP under the eye of the National Institutes of Health will take at least six months to complete.
“We need those studies. We need the industry data because we don’t have any data on these chemicals. It’s a very, very positive step,” Gupta said.
Secretary Bowling and Dr. Gupta initially visited Washington, D.C. last month to push for the funding of more studies. They were called back Wednesday for a meeting organized by Sen. Manchin.
Bowling said the attitudes have changed some in recent weeks.
“Now the partnership is stronger and when they come into the state of West Virginia we are going to be very well-prepared to have conversations that are going to be very significant in terms of the next step,” Bowling said.
MCHM and a smaller amount of the chemical PPH spilled into the Elk River from Freedom Industries in Charleston Jan. 9 and got into the nearby West Virginia American Water Company plant contaminating the water supply of 300,000 state residents. A Do Not Use water order was issued for several days.
There wasn’t much known about MCHM before the spill, only a few animal studies had been conducted. Gupta said further study cannot be ignored and more people are recognizing that after some initial reluctance from the CDC and others.
“There’s so much new information that has been revealed since that it made a compelling case for our federal partners to go back and look at this,” Gupta said.