The chemical spill that occurred near Charleston, West Virgina on January 9th left residents without clean water in which to drink, bathe, wash clothes or to use in any manner.
On January 13th, W.V. residents were told they could safely drink the tap water, but on January 15th, it was suggested that pregnant women continue drinking bottled water.
So, if it isn’t safe for pregnant women, what makes the water safe for everyone else?
“That’s a good question,” said Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department. “There’s a lot of unknowns about this potential chemical that have the chance to do some harm to humans.”
Gupta, the director of the local health department, said hospital visits in the area spiked mid-week as more people started using their tap water.
“People come to us and report that right after they’ve taken a shower, they’ve had this rash,” he said. “We’ve had people walk in here with scary-looking rashes.”
A recent CNN test found the chemical in “clean” water.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that as long as the chemical is diluted enough, the water should be safe to drink.
But other experts are still unsure, studies about this specific chemical, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, are very limited and the effects are still being investigated.
“Due to limited availability of data, and out of an abundance of caution, you may wish to consider an alternative drinking water source for pregnant women until the chemical is at non-detectable levels in the water distribution system,” CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden said in a letter to West Virginia health officials advising them on the situation.
However, the question still remains, why put restrictions on pregnant women if the water is actually safe?
“If it is not safe for me to drink pregnant, is it safe for my 55-pound daughter to drink or our pets?” Pregnant W.V. resident Jennifer Kayrouz asked. “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?'”
Kayouz has a master’s in public health is rightfully concerned, “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.”
Vice Chairman of the West Virginia Environmental Quality Board, Scott Simonton, isn’t sure it’s safe either:
“I don’t think that just because it’s below that number [1 part per million guideline] it’s magically safe,” said Simonton, a professor of environmental science at Marshall University. “We don’t know enough about the toxicity of this particular chemical to know what its long-term effects are and what the maximum contaminant level really should be.”
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