A pregnant women water advisory was issued in West Virginia, due to the chemical spill that is still plaguing nine counties and was just recently detected across state lines. According to CNN on Jan 16, the local health officials in West Virginia are suggesting pregnant women in the area of the chemical spill stick to drinking bottled water until the chemical is not detected at all in the water.
Health officials lifted the water ban, but if it is not safe for pregnant women, just how safe is this water for everyone else? This is a question that folks in West Virginia are asking today. The problem seems to be that lack of studies and research on this particular chemical, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, and human consumption gives the health officials very little to go on.
The Centers for Disease Control has said that as long as the chemical is diluted enough in water “it should be safe to drink,” reports CNN. “Should” just is not a strong enough word for people to feel confident about drinking the water, especially since pregnant women are now advised not to drink it.
What about young kids and infants? Are parents going to chance this water for their little ones when pregnant women shouldn’t drink it?
Investigators are still looking into the chemical, which doesn’t have an abundance of research around its safety when found in drinking water. CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden sent a letter to West Virgina health officials with this advisement:
"Due to limited availability of data, and out of an abundance of caution, you may wish to consider an alternative drinking water source for pregnant women until the chemical is at non-detectable levels in the water distribution system."
As CNN suggests, the CDC often issues different guidelines for pregnant women when it comes to advisories and warnings. While there is very little research on the chemical’s effects on the general population, there’s even less data on its effects on pregnant women, so to air on the side of caution the CDC opted to issue this advisory for pregnant women.
This advisory still offers a degree of concern to the general population. Experts have voiced their opinions about the safety of the chemical even in the much lower amount detected in the water today. Scott Simonton, vice chairman of the West Virginia Environmental Quality Board said:
"I don't think that just because it's below that number, it's magically safe. We don't know enough about the toxicity of this particular chemical to know what its long-term effects are and what the maximum contaminant level really should be."
Simonton is also a professor of environmental science at Marshall University. He also said:
"Right now, it's an acceptable standard. I don't think anybody can genuinely call it a safe standard."
This is a key statement, the difference between "acceptable" and "safe" has become a blurred line that doesn't build confidence for the people that have this tainted water coming out of their taps at home.
When the ban on tap water was lifted midweek, the hospitals in the area saw visits to the emergency rooms at the hospital spike, reports Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department. He also reports some “scary looking rashes” after people have showered in the water. Gupta said:
"People come to us and report that right after they've taken a shower, they've had this rash," he said. "We've had people walk in here with scary-looking rashes."
Just how safe is the water when “scary-looking rashes” pop up after showering? As of Thursday, two thirds of West Virginians have had the ban on their water lifted. The ban has not been lifted for the entire area. This means “213,000-- people have had their 'do not use' water order lifted,” according to CNN.