Scientists ID amount of chemical they consider safe by Ken Ward Jr., January 11, 2014, West Virginia Gazette
Faced with limited information and no regulatory guidelines on a chemical that’s put drinking water off limits for 300,000 West Virginians, government scientists have come up with a level of Crude MCHM they believe is safe. Federal and state officials have put out a number — 1 part per million — and are noting hopefully that chemical concentrations in the region’s Elk River water supply are dropping ever closer to that figure. At the same time, officials in the Tomblin administration and with West Virginia American Water are refusing to make public the results of their testing. And they’re saying precious little about how the number was derived, or what exactly it really means.
Bernadette Burden, a senior press officer for the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, said federal officials believe “this number is extremely conservative and protective of public health.” [It doesn’t sound conservative knowing that some toxics at 1 part per billion or trillion are harmful]
And local officials are publicly assuring residents that ATSDR and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention devised the figure, and that experts with those agencies shouldbe trusted on the matter. [It’s extremely foolish to trust without evidence or data. Trust is earned. If regulators, elected officials and West Virginia American Water made their test results public, trust may start to grow] “Not only are experts from West Virginia reviewing the samples, but experts from the U.S. EPA, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are reviewing the samples to be sure that the system is safe before it is reopened,” said Dr. Letitia Tierney, commissioner for the state Department of Health and Human Resources’ Bureau for Public Health. “All of this is being done to ensure the public health and safety of our citizens.
After National Guard Gen. James Hoyer first mentioned the figure Friday afternoon, Amy Goodwin, spokeswoman for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, referred questions about it to Tierney. Late Friday night, Tierney initially declined to answer questions about how the figure was derived, saying she hadn’t done the work and did not want to “walk down this path” of explaining it. Later, Tierney provided some details in an email message forwarded by an agency media spokesman. In the email message, Tierney explained that the CDC looked for relevant studies of the chemical’s health effects but found only one — a 1990 study by Eastman, maker of the product, that was not published in peer-reviewed literature and is considered proprietary.
That study, she said, was the basis for the median lethal dose, or LD50, listed on an Eastman “material safety data sheet,” or MSDS that’s been circulated by local emergency responders, health officials and the media. On that MSDS, the LD50 for Crude MCHM is listed as 825 milligrams per kilogram. This means that, when tested on rats, an 825 milligram dose per kilogram of body weight was enough to kill half the rats. Here’s how Tierney said CDC experts took that LD50 and came up with the 1-part-per-million figure that West Virginia officials are now citing as a safe level in local water: “The experts then took this number and calculated the uncertainty factors,” she wrote. “In this situation there were two. The first uncertainty factor was translating these results from rats to humans. The second uncertainty factor took into account sensitive populations. This includes the elderly, the sick, the immuno-compromised and children, amongst others. “Uncertainty factors range from 5 to 10 percent,” she wrote. “Given the dearth of data and an abundance of caution, both uncertainty factors were rated at 10 percent.” This, Tierney explained, changed the level that would cause death to 8.25 milligrams per kilogram of body weight.
LD50 figures, though, consider only death. They would tell officials nothing about what levels at which chemical exposure would cause other health effects, even serious ones. To address this, they changed the figure to 1 milligram per kilogram of body weight, which is equal to 1 part per million. It’s not clear though — and Tierney did not explain — the scientific basis for the change from 8.25 milligrams per kilogram to 1 milligram per kilogram. But Dr. Elizabeth Scharman, director of the West Virginia Poison Center, reviewed the issue and said she’s comfortable with Tierney’s explanation of it. “There are processes and decision algorithms that are used based on all of the data that is known,” Scharman said. “In this case, it is the entire toxicity profile of a chemical that is unknown. However, predictions are based on what we do know looking at the chemistry and the available data,” she said. “In this case, we are dealing with a short-term exposure as opposed to situations in which people have been exposed for weeks to months to years.” [Emphasis added]
US House passed bill ravaging toxic-waste law – on same day as W. Virginia chemical spill by RT, January 11, 2014
As West Virginians were learning Thursday of a devastating chemical spill in the Elk River that has rendered water undrinkable for 300,000 people, the US House of Representatives was busy gutting federal hazardous-waste cleanup law. The House passed the Reducing Excessive Deadline Obligations Act that would ultimately eliminate requirements for the Environmental Protection Agency to review and update hazardous-waste disposal regulations in a timely manner, and make it more difficult for the government to compel companies that deal with toxic substances to carry proper insurance for cleanups, pushing the cost on to taxpayers.
In addition, the bill would result in slower response time in the case of a disaster, requiring increased consultation with states before the federal government calls for cleanup of Superfund sites – where hazardous waste could affect people and the environment. The bill amends both the Solid Waste Disposal Act and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act – often referred to as Superfund, which was created in 1980 to hold polluter industries accountable for funding the cleanup of hazardous-waste sites. There are over 1,300 priority Superfund sites in the US. The legislation was passed by a vote of 225 to 188, mostly along party lines, with all but four Republicans supporting the bill and all but five Democrats opposing it. One of those Democrats crossing party lines to support the changes to environmental law was Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia. The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO), touted the “common-sense” changes as needed economic relief.
Critics point out that the bill severely weakens environmental protections. Earthjustice and 128 public interest groups said the legislation would “threaten human health and the environment while protecting polluters from liability for the costs of toxic cleanups.” The legislation also “substantially increases the potential for harm in communities across the United States. As one in four Americans live within three miles of a hazardous-waste site, safe management and prompt cleanup of toxic waste sites are essential to our nation’s health and economy,” the group added. The bill is a “New Year’s gift to corporate interests,” said Scott Slesinger, legislative director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a statement, adding that taxpayers will be the one to assume cleanup costs.
Opponents will probably find salvation in the US Senate, which is unlikely to pass the bill. In addition, the White House has promised to veto the legislation. “The bill’s requirements could result in significant site cleanup delays, endangering public health and the environment,” White House policy advisers wrote in a statement. [Emphasis added]
300,000 told not to bathe, brush teeth or wash clothes after chemical spill hits West Virginia tap water: ‘It was chaos’ by John Raby, January 10, 2014, Toronto Star
A foaming agent used in the coal preparation process, leaked Thursday from a tank into the Elk River. The West Virginia American Water Co. intake facility on the Elk River is closed following a 4-methylcyclohexane methanol leak from a 48,000-gallon tank at Freedom Industries. The White House has issued a federal disaster declaration in West Virginia, where a chemical spill that may have contaminated tap water has led officials to tell at least 300,000 people not to bathe, brush their teeth or wash their clothes. The chemical, a foaming agent used in the coal preparation process, leaked Thursday from a tank at Freedom Industries, overran a containment area and went into the Elk River. The spill shut down much of the rural state’s capital city and surrounding counties, even as the cause and extent of the incident remained unclear. “It was chaos, that’s what it was,” convenience store cashier Danny Cardwell said. Officials said they were not sure what hazard the spill posed to residents. It was not immediately clear how much of the chemical spilled into the river and at what concentration.
“I don’t know if the water is not safe,” West Virginia American Water company president Jeff McIntyre said. “Until we get out and flush the actual system and do more testing, we can’t say how long this (advisory) will last at this time.” Kanawha County emergency officials said the chemical is called 4-methylcyclohexane methanol. McIntyre said the chemical isn’t lethal in its strongest form. According to a fact sheet from biotechnology company Fisher Scientific, the chemical is harmful if swallowed — and could be so if inhaled — and causes eye and skin irritation. … The West Virginia National Guard planned to distribute bottled drinking water to emergency services agencies in the nine affected counties. [Emphasis added]
State of Emergency, Water Advisory Issued for 9 West Virginia Counties by Dave Mistich, Ashton Marra and Associated Press, January 10, 2014
Governor Earl Ray Tomblin has issued a state of emergency and West Virginia American Water is telling over 100,000 customers in Boone, Cabell, Clay, Jackson, Kanawha, Lincoln, Logan, Putnam, and Roane counties NOT to ingest, cook, bathe, wash or boil water. Water in this coverage area is okayed ONLY for flushing and fire protection. The advisory comes as a result of a chemical spill of 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol from Freedom Industries, Inc. Various water distribution centers and filling stations are beginning to open in the areas affected by the water advisory/state of emergency.
Updated: Friday, January 10, 2014 at 5:45 a.m.: Reporters around the Kanawha Valley say West Virginia American Water continues to test the water for safety reasons. Still no conclusive results. [Emphasis added]
[Refer also to:
TINY DOSES OF GAS DRILLING CHEMICALS MAY HAVE BIG HEALTH EFFECTS, Authors of new study encourage more low-dose testing of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, with implications for the debate on natural gas drilling ]