West Virginia –Emergency Water Problem
A chemical spill in the water? Short term emergency?
The water restrictions were imposed Thursday when it was discovered about 7,500 gallons of a chemical used to clean coal — 4-methylcyclohexane methanol — had leaked out of a storage tank located a mile upriver from the water plant.
From what is reported, there is a smell to the water, which would be typical of organic compounds.
It is more than 30,000 people affected, and 9 counties, it is the entire state.
Hospitals, farms, livestock, all affected.
Even parts of Pennsylvania are on alert.
Out of control, or controlled situation?
As the chemical spreads over the top of the water, it should become more dilute, and less dangerous.
So, this should not be an ongoing spill that is out of control.
The spill happened, then stopped. So it should be a controlled situation.
If the situation gets worse and worse, then it is not due to a chemical, but something else.
So we wait and see.
Report raises questions:
All water in the area has been contaminated with the chemical (4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol), a chemical used in the coal industry. This chemical will make a person sick but it is not deadly unless ingested in huge quantity.
It is not supposed to be too toxic (it was introduced as a more benign replacement of 2-ethyl-1-hexanol). It is a greasy oily substance that is very poorly soluble in water and floats on it.
It forms greasy film on water and sticks to greasy substances, like coal dust.
It has low volatility and only a faint licorice odor. It probably lends a funny taste to tap water and I would not drink it. I guess it is on the same level of tox concern as motor oil.
The chemical is used to float impurities out of coal. The flotation process is used for the separation of sulfides, oxides and other carbonates prior to further processing.
The chemical since its lighter than water will carry these impurities up and leave the clean coal at the bottom.
cyclohexanemethanol has an LD50 of 250 mg/kg in mice, so it seems like you’d probably need to ingest quite a bit for toxic effects to occur.
1. This material is only slightly soluble in water, which means that the concentrations in the water will max out in the 3% range. Directly drinking this water, while still not a good idea, will not result in surface burns or respiratory problems. The concentration and vapors are just. not. there.
2. The Rat LD50 on this is 1660 mg/kg. For comparison, the LD50 for table salt is 3,000 mg/kg, and the LD50 of Caffeine is 192 mg/kg. So yea… Don’t go around drinking a lot of it, but unless you’re seeking it out to eat/drink, you’re going to be OK.
3. The tanks in the picture have a berm and a dike wall around them. Both would have had to fail for the water to be contaminated, so something else happened. I still haven’t heard the quantity released yet, but by the response several thousand gallons (which isn’t as much as you think) would have had to breach the containment in order to elicit this type of response.
4. The material is lighter than water, so it’s going to float on top. Should make cleanup easier & faster and dissolution happen faster, but increase the risk of it moving downstream. The half-life in rivers is estimated at ~4 days, as in gone. Not just dissolved away. Gone through a combination of microbacterial digestion, volatilization, and photoracial based degradation.
5. The "Hazards" given are based straight off the MSDS sheet which assumes direct exposure. (eg. splashing the material directly into the eyes or onto the skin, or working with the material at normal handling temperatures: which is why the SDS for water lists a burn potential.) Also, since SDS’s are a legal document EVERY known or suspected hazard is on it. In the SDS world it’s covering any "alleged significant adverse reaction" reported through TSCA.
6. I GUARANTEE you this incident is going to be investigated by OSHA, EPA, NIOSH, and the CSB who will all take this very seriously from an environmental and PHA standpoint. The company will suffer very serious fines for allowing the spill, and given the impact, I would not be at all surprised if they were forced to shut down.
Although there is chemical involved, I do not think the real problem is this chemical….because it is so insoluble in water, I do not see how it presents a real threat to the total water volume, as it separates out from water.
This leaves most of the water beneath it as not contaminated.
If something is really contaminating the water, it has to be more soluble in water than this chemical.
I think this chemical is being blamed for the sicknesses that are being reported, and that it is an excuse to shut down the coal industry in West Virginia.
But this is speculation at this point, so I will just present it, then drop the issue, unless more information can be obtained.
Cleaning up your water
If there is any of this chemical really is in the water, the water beneath the organic layer could be run through a separation column and purified, or by extraction, or by Water Filters with Activated Carbon Cartridges.
So one could collect some water from the faucet, and let it settle out.
Once settled out, take the bottom layer, and put it through a filter.
One can buy a water filter and process one’s own tap water.
You can buy activated carbon water filters at Walmart.
I think all households should have activated charcoal water filters in case of emergencies like this.
Once water is filtered, it should be boiled.
Another option is to just store clean tap water in anticipation of an emergency. Use food grade plastic or clean glass containers.
If you use a large trash can, it is not food grade, so wash it out well with soap and water, then filter the water you get from it with an activated charcoal filter from Walmart.
Emergency preparation should be a modern day activity that everyone should be involved in.
I hope this “spill” situation makes people think and prepare.
Another thing…..if the crops and livestock are destroyed by the lack of water, or by contaminated water, then this will lead to a food shortage of some sort.