A new study shows a chemical that spilled into West Virginia's biggest drinking water supply in January could be more toxic than a previous test indicated. But the researcher behind the study cautions there are differences between his tests and earlier studies.
University of South Alabama researcher Dr. Andrew Whelton released the findings Thursday from crude MCHM toxicity tests on freshwater fleas.
His results indicate it takes much less exposure for the chemical to be toxic to fleas than a 1998 study showed. Eastman Chemical, crude MCHM's manufacturer, conducted the older study.
Whelton tried to replicate Eastman's results three times and was unsuccessful.
“To conduct the study, we used the same organism that they used, we used the same environmental conditions, we used the same water chemistry, we conducted it for the same length of time, the same water temperature—and we didn’t get the same results as they did,” explained Whelton.
But, Whelton noted there are some differences, including the exact compound his study used as compared to Eastman's research.
“If you look at the [Material Safety Data Sheet], there’s a variation in how much of each different ingredient is present. And, so, that could be one of the reasons why our data do not match their data,” he said.
The study has not yet undergone peer review although Whelton said he plans to go through the process that will allow other scientists to scrutinize his work. He also noted the tests on freshwater fleas are far removed from directly applying to human exposure.
Whelton used a $70,000 National Science Foundation grant for that project and others. He presented the research Thursday to National Association of City and County Health Officials at their annual conference in Atlanta.
Whelton, who also led the taxpayer-funded West Virginia Testing Assessment Project to sample homes affected by the spill at Freedom Industries, said he is planning stages of teaming with the U.S. Geological Survey to research MCHM’s toxicity on fish and other aquatic life.