Dave Mistich Published

Feds Commit to Health Studies on Elk River Chemical Spill


Federal, state, and Kanawha county officials met Wednesday in U.S. Senator Joe  Manchin’s Washington D.C. office to pin down plans for more studies on the January 9 chemical spill at Freedom Industries. The announcement comes as a relief to those who’ve been pressing for this development since almost day one. 

Members of the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, the National Institute of Health, and the West Virginia Department and Health and Human Resources were part of the meeting.

The CDC denied Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s  requests for more animal toxicological studies on June 26, but Dr. Rahul Gupta of the Kanawha Charleston Health Department reports the National Toxicology Program will spend $750,000 to over a million on the studies. He says they’ll take up to a year to complete, and will address health implications on humans of the spilled chemicals.

Gupta says that, while the CDC’s early drinking water standard was sufficient at the time, he’s been calling for more information since the earliest moments of the crisis. He says the manufacturer’s studies on MCHM exposure were for industry and regulatory purposes only and shouldn’t be applied to human health.

“We need to make sure that, while this initial industry data was adequate enough initially—because that’s all we had to develop a screening level on an emergency basis—we must go back to the laboratory,” said Gupta.

Gupta points to studies conducted by his own organization as well as the DHHR–in conjunction with the CDC. Studies that show that somewhere between a third and one and five residents reported health symptoms related to the spill. 

“Lots of data and studies have been established since that demonstrates that it seems that significant exposure may have happened,” he said. “In that light, what we have been talking about is having some way of having some surveillance system in place that will take into account the long term impact—if any exists—on human health.” 

The CDC has also committed to visit West Virginia within the next two months to start crafting a long-term health monitoring program.