Experts warn ‘flushing’ might not have gotten all chemicals out
By Ken Ward Jr. and David Gutman
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The “flushing” recommended by the Tomblin administration and West Virginia American Water might not have effectively eliminated Crude MCHM and other toxic chemicals from plumbing systems in homes and businesses, experts are warning.
MCHM from the Jan. 9 Freedom Industries leak into the Elk River might be stuck inside pipes and hot-water tanks, and experts are concerned that the chemical also could be breaking down into other toxic materials that have yet to be fully identified.
Scott Simonton, a Marshall University environmental engineer, told a legislative committee Wednesday that he found cancer-causing formaldehyde — which he said is one possible breakdown product from the chemical — in one local water sample and that the continued lack of data on the chemicals that leaked into the Elk is very concerning.
“It’s frightening, it really is frightening,” said Simonton, who is a member of the state Environmental Quality Board and also consults for at least one local law firm that’s filed suit over the leak. “What we know scares us — and we know there’s a lot more we don’t know.”
Early Wednesday evening, the state Department of Health and Human Resources issued a statement that called Simonton’s comments regarding formaldehyde “totally unfounded” and said his testimony “does not speak to the health and safety of West Virginians.”
Dr. Letitia Tierney, commissioner of the Bureau for Public Health, said Wednesday evening that the chemists the state state had consulted with all said the formaldehyde could not have come from the MCHM.
“Our experts are all in agreement that it’s unlikely that his findings are in any way related to the chemical spill,” she said. “It’s already in our environment…”