Most of us in the U.S. are lucky enough to have clean water come out of our taps every day; so lucky that we often don’t think about where our water is coming from and who’s in charge of making sure it’s safe.
Over 300,000 West Virginians impacted by a chemical spill last week got a reminder of how integral clean water is to our daily lives and livelihoods. But if we dismiss what happened there as an isolated accident or simply a problem that people in resource-heavy areas like West Virginia have to deal with, we’d be mistaken. In the week since the spill, some startling information has come to light that should make us shake in our boots, regardless of where we live.
1. What the hell is that chemical?
The chemical that spilled into the Elk River from Freedom Industries’ tank farm was 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol (MCHM). We don’t know much else, however, since material safety sheets and toxicology databases don’t have much info, as Ken Ward Jr. writes for the West Virginia Gazette. And that is cause for concern. Ward writes:
… 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.
While CDC officials announced what they believed was a safe level of the chemical, they didn’t say how they arrived at their conclusion. The fact is, no matter where you live, there are tens of thousands of chemicals we may come in contact with that have not been tested by the EPA. The chemicals are only as safe as the companies that make them say they are. Do you want to take their word for it?