West Virginia Water Supply Poisoned by Dirty Coal

What does dirty coal have to do with clean water? Ask the 300,000+ people who rely on West Virginia water flowing from the tap.

West Virginia Water Supply Poisoned by Dirty Coal

selected from CleanTechnica

by Tina Casey

If you didn’t know what Crude MCHM was on Thursday,  given the nine-county water crisis unfolding in West Virginia you probably know by now that it’s short for 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, a foaming agent that is used to clean coal. The industrial chemical has many other uses, but given its use by the coal industry now is a good time to ask what exactly is meant by “clean coal.”

As reported by the Charleston Gazette, the Crude MCHM spill began some time last Thursday, when a storage tank at the company Freedom Industries began to leak into the nearby Elk River, about a mile and a half upriver from the intakes for West Virginia American Water.

By the time the leak was discovered, the chemical had entered, apparently, the entire service area of the water company. Some had also leached into the ground on its way to the river.

As of this writing the Freedom site is locked down and/or crashed and the water company put a “DO NOT USE WATER” alert box on the top of its site. About 300,000 residents in nine counties have been affected, including some exhibiting symptoms of exposure to Crude MCHM (the alert was later lifted for at least part of one county).

How Bad Is The West Virginia water?

MCHM is basically a poison and until the entire water system is flushed out, the water is unusable for anything except flushing toilets. That means no bathing, no cooking, no cleaning, no laundry, no nothing. In addition to the effect on daily domestic life, consider the impact on hospitals, hotels, and every other business that depends on copious amounts of water (restaurants, laundromats, caterers, barber shops, beauty salons, the list is endless…) and you’ve got a major economic disaster on your hands.

Speaking of hands, the advent of flu season adds another wrinkle. Frequent hand-washing is one of the top strategies for preventing spread of the virus. The Centers for Disease Control reports that flu cases are on the uptick and are widespread in many states. As of last week West Virginia was one of the few states not yet reporting widespread flu, but that could change with the spill’s impact on access to safe water for frequent washing.

What’s All This About Clean Coal?

Let’s note again that Crude MCHM is a fairly common industrial chemical in general use by the mining sector, not just coal.

However, the coal connection knocks yet another pin out from under the “clean coal” image that the industry has been trying so hard to prop up.

Image Credit: Water Tap photo via Shutterstock

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