Last month Dr. Andrew Whelton, environmental engineer and member of the West Virginia Testing and Assessment Project, published an article on the tap water contamination that occurred as a result of the Freedom Industries chemical spill last year. Importantly, the article connects his team’s findings on the water contamination to the findings on health effects, which by several accounts affected up to 100,000 people in West Virginia.
As I’ve been interviewing those affected by the water crisis this week, many have mentioned that they are unaware of the study, so I promised them I would post a link to the article on my blog. So please, check it out. You may have to skim over some of the engineering terminology and data, as I did, but their findings are clear: the flushing procedures caused chemicals to be volatilized, further exposing residents who flushed according to the official flushing instructions; flushing did not effectively remove the chemicals from the plumbing systems of all homes; and science-based flushing protocols need to be developed.
Click the link below to read the full article.
(Because he believes the public deserves access to this article, Dr. Whelton was generous enough to pay a fee to have the article, which was published in an academic journal, to be made open-access.)
Here is a short summary of the article (the abstract):
During January 2014, an industrial solvent contaminated West
Virginia’s Elk River and 15% of the state population’s tap water. A rapid in-
home survey and water testing was conducted 2 weeks following the spill to
understand resident perceptions, tap water chemical levels, and premise
plumbing flushing effectiveness. Water odors were detected in all 10 homes
sampled before and after premise plumbing flushing. Survey and medical data
indicated flushing caused adverse health impacts. Bench-scale experiments and
physiochemical property predictions showed flushing promoted chemical
volatilization, and contaminants did not appreciably sorb into cross-linked
polyethylene (PEX) pipe. Flushing reduced tap water 4-methylcyclohexane-
methanol (4-MCHM) concentrations within some but not all homes. 4-
MCHM was detected at unflushed (<10 to 420 μg/L) and flushed plumbing
systems (<10 to 96 μg/L) and sometimes concentrations differed among
faucets within each home. All waters contained less 4-MCHM than the 1000
μg/L Centers for Disease Control drinking water limit, but one home exceeded the 120 μg/L drinking water limit established by independent toxicologists. Nearly all households refused to resume water use activities after flushing because of water safety concerns. Science based flushing protocols should be developed to expedite recovery, minimize health impacts, and reduce concentrations in homes when future events occur.