The chemical spill that left thousands of West Virginians without clean running water this past week has been making headlines. In the past few days, some residents have been told that their tap water is safe, but many are questioning whether or not this is true, especially if pregnant women are now being advised against consuming the water altogether.
According to CNN, West Virginia officials issued new guidance Wednesday night, stating that pregnant women should not drink tap water until there are no detectable levels of the toxic chemical in it.
The chemical that was discovered leaking into Elk River last week is 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM), a substance used to wash coal. Consuming MCHM can cause cause vomiting, dizziness, headaches, diarrhea, irritated skin and other adverse health effects. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claim that the water is safe to drink if the chemical is diluted enough, but some experts have casted their doubts. Dr. Rahul Gupta, who is the director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, pointed out that we do not know a lot about how this chemical affects human health. “There’s a lot of unknowns about this potential chemical that have the chance to do some harm to humans.” Dr. Gupta said.
According to Gupta, hospitals visits have dramatically increased as more people began using the 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.” He said.
Authorities have lifted the ban on tap water in some areas because the chemical is detected at lower levels, but some experts are not convinced. “I don’t think that just because it’s below that number, it’s magically safe…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.” said Scott Simonton, vice chairman of the West Virginia Environmental Quality Board.
Residents have also expressed skepticism. Charleston mother Jacqueline Bevan told CNN that “If a pregnant woman can’t drink this… no, we’re not feeling safe here in West Virginia,” She expressed frustration about the fact that “we’re not given any details about this chemical,” She and other residents want to know more about the long-term health effects associated with MCHM, but little information has been given.