The vice chairman of the West Virginia Environmental Quality Board said he could “guarantee” some citizens in the state were breathing in formaldehyde from their water supply – but the state Bureau of Public Health and the West Virginia American Water Company branded his comments “misleading,” “irresponsible” and “totally unfounded.”
Scott Simonton, who is also a professor at Marshall University, told state lawmakers that he found formaldehyde in the water at a Charleston, W.Va., restaurant while testing for a law firm after the Freedom Industries spill, WV Metro News reported. His January 13 samples show 32 or 33 parts per billion of formaldehyde, the Charleston Daily Mail reports.
Simonton said the carcinogen is a product of the breakdown of MCHM, one of two chemicals known to have spilled in the incident.
But Bureau of Public Health commissioner Letitia Tierney said MCHM must be combusted at 500F to produce formaldehyde. The latter is also a naturally occurring chemical measurable in air and water, and produced in small amounts in the human body.
She noted that Simonton has not been part of the “integral team” of officials testing water after the spill. “His opinion is personal but speaks in no official capacity,” she said.
More transparent, readily understood information on such chemicals – including threshold limits and common background levels – would help the public and companies alike. If the formaldehyde risks described in West Virginia prove unfounded, then they will have only served to create public paranoia.
Takeaway: Experts and officials are sending mixed messages about the potential threat from formaldehyde in the wake of the West Virginia chemical spill.
Tamar Wilner is Senior Editor at Environmental PRO.
Pictured: A member of the West Virginia National Guard draws a water sample, January 11. Credit: West Virginia National Guard.