Dave Mistich Published

Five Things West Virginia Heard Wednesday from CDC, EPA, & Gov. Tomblin


Governor Earl Ray Tomblin was joined Wednesday by state officials as well as officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Environmental Protection Agency to provide an update to the ongoing response to the January 9 chemical spill by Freedom Industries into the Elk River.

Here’s what we learned from the briefing:

1. The 1 parts per million threshold for MCHM doesn’t declare the water “safe.”

Dr. Tanja Popovic, Deputy Associate Director for Science for the CDC, echoed earlier explanations that the 1 ppm standard for MCHM levels in the water was determined by three safety factors, which multiply to 1,000. She also stated that the recommendation means the water is “acceptable for use” rather than “safe.”

2. CDC officials say it is “unlikely” for the water to cause long term health effects.

Popovic also says that it is “unlikely” for the water to cause long term health effects based on the “short-term exposure” of those who reported symptoms, as well as their symptoms being deemed “generally mild.” She also says the CDC has no plans to monitor the population affected by the chemical spill and subsequent water crisis.

3. The state interagency team who has been involved in the efforts following the chemical spill does not plan to test homes.

While many reporters asked about testing in homes, no one would answer questions about whether or not this type of testing would calm concerns in the area. Gov. Tomblin, however, did say he is not against the idea of testing “a sample” of homes but, does not plan to test all customers affected by the spill.

Update: Just after 5 p.m. Wednesday, Governor Tomblin made this announcement via Twitter:

4. EPA officials are taking a look at research to determine whether chemicals will leave residuals in pipes.

EPA Region 3 Drinking Water Branch Chief Bill Arguto says the goal of a past study done by the agency’s Water Security Division looked to see what chemicals would leave residuals in a water piping system. He says chemicals with low partition coefficients would not leave a residual.

“The two chemicals that are involved here are MCMH (sic) and PPH—have very low partition coefficients. So, it is anticipated that it would not leave a residual. But, it is an issue that we need to look at,” Arguto said.

The studies Arguto spoke of did not take a look at MCHM or PPH, which were the ones involved in the January 9 spill.

5. EPA officials have deemed the site of the leak at Freedom Industries is “stabilized.”

Shawn Garvin, the EPA’s Administrator for Region 3 (Mid-Atlantic) says his agency has been involved in response efforts since day one and the agency had a team on site on January 10. Garvin said the EPA has deemed the site of the leak “stabilized” but expects that the chemical is in the ground there. He also noted that work is underway to empty and dismantle storage tanks.

After Wednesday’s briefing, what questions do you still have about the chemical leak?