This article is brought to you by The Charleston Gazette.



As hundreds of thousands of residents in and around the Kanawha Valley struggle with the “do not use” order from West Virginia American Water Co., one stubborn fact continues to frustrate residents and some local health officials alike: No one seems to be able to say for sure what the coal-cleaning chemical that’s been dumped into our water supply might do to us.


Water company officials have identified the chemical — which leaked from a Freedom Industries tank just upstream from the regional drinking-water intake on the Elk River — as something called “Crude MCHM.” That material is made up almost entirely of another chemical, 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol.


Still, some emergency response and environmental protection officials have been quick to assure the public that 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol isn’t “hazardous.” They’ve made that statement based on one limited piece of evidence: the fact that it’s not listed as a material whose shipment is regulated by the federal Department of Transportation.


However, the material-safety data sheet, or MSDS, being cited by some of those same officials indicates that the substance is considered hazardous under other regulatory standards, such as those set by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.



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