Observation Number 1190

Incident ID 1190
Date2014-02-05 08:00:00
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Incident Description: Ongoing consequences of Freedom Industries leak of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol into the Elk River. ... (Appalachian Waterwatch has been calling this chemical by an abbreviated name that is incorrect. Please correct for the sake of accuracy and credibility.) ... Upper respiratory distress from fumes, intial exposure in our case presumably via tap water entering the humidifier attached to furnace; no mention of that was made in any public announcements, and we overlooked this possible consequence until the day we first flushed 1-14-2014. Subsequent exposures 1) during recommended flushing of the home water system (until I opened windows and turned on the attic fan to ventilate the house), and 2) by showering in hot water after official clearance was given to flush our homes and consider the water safe for all uses. We've since learned that MCHM's boiling point is lower than the boiling point of water, so that it may be expelled as gas as we use our hot water -- or as the water is heated when the furnace picks it up from the humidifier. For a few days I experienced a mild burning/itching sensation and reddened skin after washing hands and showering. My wife, who did not shower here and was not present during this or subsequent flushing operations, was unaffected. The respiratory damage is our biggest concern by far, because it has not diminished with diminished use of the water. Almost a month after the spill, I can report little if any smell in our water but significant ongoing respiratory discomfort. Because public recommendations were made without real knowledge of the substance or its possible effects on humans, we don't foresee drinking this water, cooking with it or using it for food preparation for a long time. In our home, we began noticing significant deposits of *something* in our toilet bowls roughly three to four months before this spill was made public on 1-9-2014. These unknown deposits scrubbed off easily, and we suspect but can't confirm a connection with this leak which may have been ongoing well before the catastrophic failure on January 9.


4 responses to “Local Report”

  1. Erin says:

    Thank you for this very thorough and useful report.

    AWW has been using the terms “crude MCHM” and “MCHM” rather than writing out the chemicals for several reasons. Eastman Chemical uses the name “crude MCHM” to refer to the product it produced, which leaked into the Elk. The substance in the tank was a mixture, which, according to Freedom Industries, consisted of 88.5% crude MCHM, 7.3% PPH, and 4.2% water. The specific chemicals that make up PPH are unspecified, other than being glycol ethers. According to Eastman Chemical, crude MCHM itself consists of several different chemicals: 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol, 4-(methoxymethyl)cyclohexanemethanol, water, methyl 4-methylcyclohexanecarboxylate, dimethyl 1,4-cyclohexanedicarboxylate, methanol, and 1,4-cyclohexanedimethanol.

    Rather than writing out each of the above chemicals, we feel it is appropriate to use the general terms “MCHM” and “PPH” when referring to the spill.

    • Jeff Seager says:

      I’m referring to the use of methylcyclohexane without using the fully qualified name of the compound. I saw that here in more than one place. MCHM is a decent abbreviation if the correct compound is referenced first. Just one of those housekeeping details that drives me nuts.

      • Erin says:

        Thanks. I did notice one report toward the beginning that just uses methylcyclohexane. That report is a National Response Center report that we’ve reposted. We try not to edit reports made by others, but share the information as they originally presented it.

  2. Jeff Seager says:

    Thank you, Erin! Your attention to detail is impressive and very much appreciated. In communications between our state government and the CDC, and elsewhere, some mistakes have been made because of failures to cite the correct compound and judgments made based on just such errors. That’s an issue some of us are a bit sensitive about, and I guess I’m more sensitive than some. Thank you very much for the clarification, and for the good work you do.

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