W. Va. incident underscores drinking water issues

W. Va. incident underscores drinking water issues

January 15, 2014

January 15, 2014

How safe is our water supply? It's usually something we take for granted going about our daily lives.
 
But with some 85,000 man-made chemicals introduced into the environment, the potential for contamination is very real---as hundreds of thousand of West Virginians found out first hand last week when a mysterious chemical was found in the Elk River, upstream from their drinking water supply.
 
The chemical, called 4-methyl-cyclohexane-methanol, or MCHM, is used to clean coal. Very little is known about the exposure risks of MCHM or its toxic effect on people.
 
The incident made national headlines, and in National Public Radio reporter Elizabeth Shogren's story, consulted with Biodesign water expert Rolf Halden.
 
Halden examines the interface between chemical, the environment and health risks. He's developed a patented technology that can clean up contaminated groundwater, and his research team at the Center for Environmental Security is working on testing at various sites.  In the NPR story, he states:
 
Halden used a computer model from the Environmental Protection Agency to calculate how this chemical would behave in the environment. He says it likely would not persist long; half of it would be gone from water within two weeks, and half of it from soil within a month. That's because microbes in the soil will likely break it down.
 
"I would not be terribly concerned about long-term contamination of the environment with this chemical," Halden says.
 
With so many chemicals in the environment, government and regulatory agencies find themselves behind the eight ball when it comes to prioritizing testing or having enough information to adequately understand public health risk. In the case of the safety of our drinking water supply, too much information can never be enough.

 

Written by: Joe Caspermeye