On January 8, 2014 the water supply for one of the largest water treatment plants in West Virginia was contaminated. The contaminant was 4-methylcycolhexene methanol, a chemical used to remove impurities from coal. It leaked from a storage container at Freedom Industries, a company that specializes in making chemicals for the coal and steel industries. The leak was caused by barrier failures that allowed the chemical to flow down a bank and into the Elk River where it traveled one mile downstream to the water treatment plant.
The chemical spill caused a pungent odor to overtake the surrounding area resulting in lead officials from the EPA Air Quality division to discover the leak. Upon investigation, Air Quality division officials notified the EPA Water Quality division, along with management at the treatment plant. A non-use order was immediately put in place for all residents.
The non-use order prohibited water use for all purposes including drinking, cooking, bathing, laundry or cleaning, affecting businesses such as hospitals, motels/hotels, restaurants, schools and grocery stores. And while the water treatment plant serves just 100,000 customers, reports estimated that up to one-fourth of the state’s population was affected by the spill.
Jan 8th – Spill Occurred; Non-Use Warning Issued
Jan 9th – News and Radio Reporting on Issue
Jan 10th – West Virginia Governor and President Obama declare a state of emergency for 9 Counties
Jan 13th – Limited Use of Water Allowed After Water System Flush
At the time of the spill the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) did not have a healthy concentration consumption standard for 4-methylcycolhexene methanol; therefore, the chemical was not regulated and had been deemed “non-hazardous.” The CDC is currently working on the total maximum daily load (TMDL), which is a “calculation of the maximum amount of a pollutant that a waterbody can receive and still meet water quality standards” (EPA).
Some interesting points that are highly relative to WETLAB work:
The chemical has a low odor threshold which helped the detection of the leak
A representative from the West Virginia Water Research Institute said the closest thing he could find to 4-methylhexene methanol for water quality are foaming agents (MBAS).
The CDC decided that a “safe” level for the contaminant is less than 1p.m.
Huffington Post EPA