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West Virginians Warned about Formaldehyde Following Chemical Spill

Jan 31, 2014

A Town Hall forum held yesterday at the Clay Center in West Virginia discussed the current water crisis, following the chemical spill in Elk River.

In addressing the panel of experts at the meeting, Simonton said that a water sample taken near a popular restaurant in Charleston contained formaldehyde. He said that the finding was “really frightening”. Even though officials have said that the water is safe to drink, except for pregnant women, Simonton says he and his family are not using it.

"I can guarantee you that citizens in this valley are, at least in some instances, breathing formaldehyde,” said Scott Simonton, an environmental scientist at Marshall University and member of West Virginia’s Environmental Quality Board.

Simonton isn’t the only one who is skeptical about the current safety of the water. In fact, trust was a topic discussed at the meeting. When the spill was first discovered on January 9th, officials were unable to answer any questions about MCHM, the coal-washing chemical that leaked out of a storage tank owned by Freedom Industries. Then, it was discovered that Freedom neglected to mention the presence of a second chemical, PPH. Despite claims from officials, many are refusing to use the water.

One woman told the panel that she suffered from rashes on her hand after using the water. Dr. Rahul Gupta, a panelist and executive director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, told her that many others have had the same experience. He said that there have been many reports of rashes and diarrhea since the spill, and is advocating for a surveillance program. “We are the first human beings this chemical has ever been experimented on,” he said. “We are the laboratory population in every way.”

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, formaldehyde is a likely carcinogen that has been known to cause cancer in animals. The chemical is colorless with a pungent smell. Exposure to formaldehyde gas can cause burning in the eyes and throat, nausea, difficulty breathing and may also trigger allergic reactions.

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