Source of 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol (MCHM) in Water: 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol or MCHM is typically used to clean coal particles during the coal manufacturing process. On January 9, 2014, a chemical storage facility run by Freedom Industries leaked an estimated 8,000 gallons of MCHM into the Elk River, just outside of Charleston, West Virginia. Just down the river from the chemical spill, the West Virginia American Water Company operates a water treatment plant that serves 300,000 residents. The Government of West Virginia and the American Water Company issued a warning to residents and businesses in nine counties advising them to refrain from using the tap water for bathing, cooking, making ice, and washing clothes or dishes. The only approved uses for the contaminated water were for flushing toilets and fire suppression. This order lead to many businesses being temporarily closed by the Department of Health. The Governor also issued a State of Emergency order to assist people in gaining access to water and to recognize the dire situation. The water company has now issued a statement saying that customers are now able to drink the water safely. However, on January 22, a second chemical has been found in the water and is causing concern: PPH. Little is known about the toxicity of this new chemical.
Health Concerns of MCHM: MCHM is not a chemical regulated by the EPA. Typically, in an undiluted form MCHM can cause severe skin and eye irritation causing burning and rashes. Additionally, exposure can cause nausea and vomiting as well. Health professionals are unsure what health problems diluted MCHM in water can cause, but at least 169 people have been treated with 10 people being hospitalized due to adverse health effects from the West Virginia incident. People who are concerned about exposure to MCHM should contact the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222. In spite of recent assurances of West Virginians' safety, on January 16, the CDC advised pregnant women in the area to drink only bottled water until the chemical is not detected in the water system at all.
Filtration Solutions for MCHM in Water: At this time, the EPA does not advise any filtration solutions for removing MCHM or the newly detected chemical, PPH. If that changes, this page will be updated.