A chemical spill last week in West Virginia prompted a water ban for residents in several counties–no drinking from the tap, no washing dishes, even brushing teeth was impossible unless bottled water was used–until a dangerous chemical was removed from the water system. When the ban was lifted after four days, residents were relieved…until officials issued a new warning to pregnant women.
“The West Virginia Bureau for Public Health advises, after consultation with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this evening, that the CDC recommends—out of an abundance of caution—that pregnant women drink bottled water until there are no longer detectable levels of MCHM in the water distribution system. However, the CDC re-affirmed previous advice that it does not anticipate any adverse health effects from levels less than 1 ppm,” read a statement from the Department of Health and Human Resources.
The chemical tainting the water is 4-methylcyclohexane methanol–used in the washing and preparation of coal–can cause severe burning in throat, severe eye irritation, non-stop vomiting, trouble breathing or severe skin irritation/ blistering when exposure levels are high enough. The spill originated from Freedom Industries–which is located about a mile from the water plant–out of a 48,000 gallon tank. News of the spill spread quickly last Friday, sending several frightened people to nearby hospitals out of fear that they had already ingested it, and local retailers had a hard time keeping bottled water in stock.
“It’s very upsetting,” said 38-year old Jennifer Kayrouz, who is 38-weeks pregnant. “I am not ingesting it, but I felt safe enough to shower in it … and was still washing dishes by hand. … I have a master’s in public health, and I know people are very polarized on this issue, but I put my faith in our local health department that said the water was safe. I feel like it wasn’t right. If it is not safe for me to drink pregnant, is it safe for my 55-pound daughter to drink or our pets? It’s very misleading. We got the green light, and three days later were told this one population really shouldn’t drink it. It kind of flies in the face of my training. What are we supposed to believe?'”
The CDC says that water with one part of the chemical per million is safe to drink; however, it’s not known what effect it might have on a fetus.
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