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Exposure to dangerous chemicals: the West Virginia water crisis

In modern America, many of us take clean water for granted.

But when dangerous chemicals leak into a water supply, the health risks to humans are high. That is why the current water crisis in West Virginia caused by a chemical spill is national news.

In this post, we will discuss that crisis in the context of chemicals that can cause harm in the workplace.

As we discussed last year in our June 28 post, several Maryland workers have died during the last decade after being exposed to toxic chemicals.

The chemical spill in West Virginia has contaminated the water supply for around 300,000 people since the end of last week. Government officials have responded with water-distribution centers. But schools and businesses remain closed in a nine-county area around the state capital, Charleston.

The chemical that got into the water is a chemical used in coal processing. Its name is 4-methylcyclohexamine methanol - otherwise known as MCHM.

Exposure to MCHM can cause skin blisters and severe sensations in the throat. It can also result in vomiting.

National Public Radio reported today that 10 people have had to be hospitalized.

The MCHM that got into the water supply apparently came from a spill from a huge storage tank operated by a company that manufactured specialty chemicals. According to the Wall Street Journal, that company has now been shut down.

But the leaked chemical got into the nearby Elk River and into the water supply.

Like the fertilizer-plant explosion last year in West, Texas, the West Virginia incident underscores the problem of hazardous chemical storage and industrial accidents.

Source: National Public Radio, "Slowly, Water Is Flowing Again In West Virginia," Mark Memmott, Jan. 13, 2014

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