Very few people have ever heard of 4-methyl-cyclohexane-methanol, or MCHM. Most chemists and toxicologists don’t even know what it is themselves, much less the thousands who found that it had contaminated their drinking water in recent West Virginia counties.
Used to clean coal by The Freedom Industries, reports state that anywhere from 5 – 7.5 thousands of gallons of the chemical fell into the Elk River, located just a mile and a half upstream from the intake for the drinking water plant. On Thursday, January 9th, some residents began to complain that their water smelled like licorice. This was only the beginning. By 5 pm that day, a stop-use warning had been issued for customers in 9 different counties.
This caused obvious panic for many West Virginia residents including several Wesleyan students. Kyra Waugh, a senior at WVWC and a Kanawha county native, said that not only did she have to go elsewhere to shower, but there was also “a fight for bottled water. All the stores were completely empty”. They also had to shut down all restaurants and schools, which just recently reopened.
The Freedom Industries President downplayed the chemical’s health effects, saying it has “very, very low toxicity” and claiming it posed “no danger to the public”. As hospitals began to take in people with nausea, dizziness, or eye or skin irritation, however, the question of the true health threat became a higher concern. One West Virginia resident showed how toxic and flammable the water still was days later by setting a glass of water on fire, which poured from his kitchen tap.
Famed lawyer Erin Brockovich visited Charleston, with the intent to not only help West Virginia regain water, but also to discuss the lasting effects it would have on children, wildlife, and the ecosystem as a whole. “’When things like this happen,” she told The West Virginia Record, “we respond accordingly”.
Though residents are getting back to a normal life this week, the effects have put them on edge and hoping this type of event won’t happen again.