“This particular chemical is an example of tens of thousands of chemicals that are widely in commerce, but for which we know very little about their toxicology,” says epidemiologist Lynn Goldman, who headed the EPA’s toxic chemicals division in the 1990s and is now dean of public health at George Washington University.
As the chemical snaked through Charleston’s water pipes, the CDC tracked down a single MCHM study, conducted by Eastman Kodak in 1990 to assess the risk to workers.
But the study, performed on rats, only examined short-term risks such as skin or eye irritation, Goldman notes. It wasn’t designed to consider effects on public health.
A federal bill to close TSCA’s loophole hasn’t gotten very far. But a state measure to strengthen storage tank rules passed the West Virginia Legislature in the spring.
While the cleanup continues, public concern lingers. Four months after the spill, about two-thirds of residents said they still weren’t drinking from the tap, according to a local health department survey.
[This article originally appeared in print as "Chemical Spill Exposes Federal Loophole."]