Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Lead Senior Scientist.
[UPDATE: Please see additions below. On reflection, my "got lucky" theme here may well have been a poor choice, as I certainly did not mean to imply that the spill was anything other than a nightmare for affected residents; rather, it was my attempt to again highlight the extent to which officials were flying blind at the time due to numerous systemic failures. While the NTP study I discuss here answers some questions and I believe is cause for some relief, it did not address all concerns, leaves considerable uncertainty, and doesn't begin to undo the damage of this incident and its continuing aftermath. Apologies to anyone who took my phrase to imply otherwise.]
Readers may recall that I blogged extensively about the January 2014 spill of chemicals into the Elk River near Charleston from tanks used to store the chemical near the river’s edge, which disrupted the drinking water supply and the lives of 300,000 residents for many weeks thereafter.
A key concern was the dearth of health data – both publicly available and otherwise – on the key chemical components of the spilled mixture, which was used to wash coal. As I reported in a series of blog posts, despite scant data, federal and state officials rushed to establish – and then defend their establishment of – a concentration of one part per million (1 ppm) as the “safe” level of the main component, 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol (MCHM), of the spilled mixture. I pointed to the lack of a scientific basis for that level, largely because of the lack of adequate health information.
That remained the case even after the chemical’s producer, Eastman Chemical, decided to make public its studies of the chemical that it had hidden, claiming them to constitute trade secrets. I tried to be careful not to claim MCHM or other spilled chemicals posed health risks, but rather that the lack of safety data was highly concerning, given the widespread extent of exposure.
Among the many outcomes of the spill was an agreement by the National Toxicology Program (NTP) to undertake a thorough study of the potential health and environmental effects of MCHM and other component chemicals. That study is now complete, and the results were released last week. Read More