A recent article by the Associated Press discussed how a state official from West Virginia has come forward to warn residents of the state that they may be breathing in a dangerous carcinogen while taking an otherwise ordinary shower.
The news came during a briefing by Scott Simonton with the state’s Environmental Quality Board. Simonton said that he could “guarantee” that some residents of West Virginia have breathed in the chemical MCHM that spilled into Charleston’s water supply earlier this month. The chemical spill prompted a water-use ban that has since been lifted, despite continued claims from residents that the water smells and tastes different.
According to Simonton, crude MCHM is what was spilled into the state’s water supply, a substance that can break down into formaldehyde under the right conditions. Simonton noted that one way that MCHM can turn into formaldehyde is in a shower where the water is hot. Even more troubling is the fact that formaldehyde is most dangerous when it is inhaled, something that could easily happen in the context of a steamy morning shower.
Simonton briefed a state legislative panel earlier this week about his concerns, saying that respiratory cancer is a serious risk for those exposed to formaldehyde. Simonton says that the chemical that remains in the water can easily be broken down in a hot shower or even during the normal steps in the water treatment process. The chemical can then be inhaled by unsuspecting residents, which could cause serious health problem down the road.
Initial testing of the water supply found traces of formaldehyde in Charleston. More tests are being performed to better understand how much might remain in the water and at what concentration. Simonton said that experts understand that MCHM can turn into other dangerous substances and that state officials have not done their job of thoroughly investigating what the MCHM might have morphed into. Given that, Simonton clearly stated that he was unable to say that the state’s water is safe.
The initial trouble began back on January 9th when officials say a chemical tank owned by Freedom Industries developed a leak. The tank lost more than 10,000 gallons of crude MCHM and another chemical, stripped PPH. The spill then lead to a water-use ban for more than 300,000 people in West Virginia that lasted for multiple days. Though the ban has since been lifted, concerns remain about how citizens might have been harmed.