I’ve read a few articles addressing the lack of regulation on industrial chemicals in West Virginia regarding the most recent chemical spill. The spill affected West Virginians water supply, leaving them without clean water to drink or bathe in for days. As I read more, I learned that not much is known about the chemical, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, that was released into the Elk River and its safety. Aside from the lack of information on the chemical, the site where the spill occurred had not been inspected since 1991.
The Big Impact of a little known W.Va. Chemical Spill via NPR
The chemical is called 4-methyl-cyclohexane-methanol, or MCHM. If you’ve never heard of it, you’re in good company. Most chemists and toxicologists hadn’t either — nor had the water company, nor emergency responders in West Virginia who had to deal with thousands of gallons of it spilling from a tank into the Elk River, just a mile and a half upstream from the intake for the region’s drinking-water plant.
At the time of the accident, the CDC didn’t have a standard for how much of this chemical in water is safe to drink.
So the agency had to come up with one.
The agency relied on the little research that had been done on the chemical — an animal study that established the lethal dose for rats. [...]
Experts weren’t surprised that the scientific literature had so little information about MCHM, because there is very little toxicological research about many chemicals. Priority for testing is given to chemicals used by consumers or in food preparation.
“There are 85,000 chemicals in commerce right now in the United States, and we cannot possibly test all the chemicals for all their different properties,” says , an engineering professor at Arizona State University who researches how chemicals move through the environment and people. [..] the spill shed light on how little is known about many chemicals. Members of Congress have been debating for years whether to update the 1976 law that governs these chemicals, the Toxic Substances Control Act.
Critics Say Chemical Spill Highlights Lax West Virginia Regulations via The New York Times
The Charleston Gazette-Mail reported Sunday that a team of experts from the United States Chemical Safety Board asked the state three years ago to create a new program to prevent accidents and releases in the Kanawha Valley, known as Chemical Valley.
That came after investigation of the August 2008 explosion and fire that killed two workers at the Bayer CropScience plant in Institute, W.Va. No program was produced, and another team from the same board is expected to arrive Monday to investigate this accident.
Critics say the problems are widespread in a state where the coal and chemical industries, which drive much of West Virginia’s economy and are powerful forces in the state’s politics, have long pushed back against tight federal health, safety and environmental controls.
“West Virginia has a pattern of resisting federal oversight and what they consider E.P.A. interference, and that really puts workers and the population at risk,” said Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council and a lecturer in environmental health at George Washington University.
West Virginia Chemical-Spill Site Avoided Broad Regulatory Scrutiny via the Washington Post
Officials Don’t Really Know How Dangerous the Chemical Spilled in West Virginia Is via Time.Com