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WV Commissioner For State Bureau Of Public Health Disputes Claims About Formaldehyde

Reported: Jan. 29, 2014 3:04 PM EST
Updated: Jan. 30, 2014 8:37 AM EST
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Jeff Morris, Dan Matics) -- The commissioner for the West Virginia Bureau of Public Health released a statement on Wednesday, disputing an environmental official's contention that some residents in areas affected by the water crisis are breathing formaldehyde when showering.

"Scott Simonton’s presentation to the West Virginia Joint Legislative Committee today is totally unfounded and does not speak to the health and safety of West Virginians," said Dr. Letitia Tierney, commissioner for the state Bureau for Public Health and state health officer.

Tierney said subject matter experts who have been assisting West Virginia through this entire emergency response state that the only way possible for formaldehyde to come from MCHM is if it were combusted at 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

The World Health Organization states formaldehyde is the most frequent aldehyde found in nature and is naturally measurable in air and water, Tierney said. Formaldehyde is created through the normal breakdown cycle of plants and animals. Formaldehyde dissolves easily in water and does not last a long time in water.

Additionally, formaldehyde is naturally produced in very small amounts in our bodies as a part of our normal, everyday metabolism and causes no harm. It can also be found in the air that we breathe at home and at work, in the food we eat, and in some products that we put on our skin.

Formaldehyde is found in many products used every day around the house such as antiseptics, medicines, cosmetics, dish-washing liquids, fabric softeners, shoe-care agents, carpet cleaners, glues and adhesives, lacquers, paper, plastics, and some types of wood products.

"We are unaware of the specifics of how this study was conducted, including sampling procedures, protocol and methodology, and would also be interested in the possibility of some other issue affecting the testing of water at the establishment indicated," Tierney said.

Tierney said everyone has been affected by this water crises and "public health is of the utmost importance. Mr. Simonton’s has not been part of the integral team of water testing officials from numerous state, local and private agencies working non-stop since January 9. His opinion is personal but speaks in no official capacity."

Some state leaders are disputing the claim.

Tierney, with the Bureau for Public Health, said for formaldehyde to break down from MCHM, it would have to be combusted at 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

"It's unlikely that his findings are in any way related," Tierney said.

Kevin Thompson is an environmental attorney. He hired Simonton as an expert witness in his federal class action lawsuit as a result of this chemical spill.

You expect to hear this from industry, he said, referring to state leaders disputing the findings. “Not government standing up for industry."

Tierney, said formaldehyde is in most things, including water, but Thompson said his scientists say their data shows levels are higher than acceptable.




CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Jeff Morris, Mamie Buoy, AP) -- West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's spokeswoman said the governor's office disputes an environmental official's contention that some residents in areas affected by the water crisis are breathing formaldehyde when showering.

Amy Shuler Goodwin said Wednesday that the governor's office believes that
Scott Simonton's comments on the subject were inaccurate. She did not elaborate.

Simonton, an Environmental Quality Board official, told a state legislative panel Wednesday that the crude MCHM that spilled into the Elk River from Freedom industries Charleston facility can break down into formaldehyde.

Formaldehyde is a carcinogen and is more toxic when inhaled. Simonton said the breakdown can happen in the shower. He called respiratory cancer the biggest risk with breathing in the chemical.

West Virginia American Water also disputed Simonton’s findings.

“We believe it is misleading and irresponsible to voice opinions on potential health impacts to residents of this community without all of the facts,” WVAW External Affairs Manager Laura Jordan said in a news release. “Procedures for water analysis are carefully prescribed, outlined and certified. WVAW will continue working with governmental health and environmental professionals and, in conjunction with these professionals, we and public health agencies will make public any reliable, scientifically sound information relating to risks to public health, if any.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story




CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Heath Harrison, AP) – A West Virginia official said that some residents in areas affected by the water crisis are breathing formaldehyde when showering.

Scott Simonton, an Environmental Quality Board official, told a state legislative panel Wednesday that the crude MCHM that spilled into the Elk River from Freedom industries Charleston facility can break down into formaldehyde.

Formaldehyde is a carcinogen and is more toxic when inhaled. Simonton said the breakdown can happen in the shower. He called respiratory cancer the biggest risk with breathing in the chemical.

Simonton said he "can guarantee" some residents are breathing formaldehyde.

Initial testing at Vandalia Grille in Charleston showed traces of the chemical. Other testing showed no traces of formaldehyde, but samples are still being processed.

Many residents have reported skin irritations since the water was deemed safe, and there were numerous complaints of headaches from fumes during the flushing process.

According to the National Cancer Institute, formaldehyde has been classified as a known human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and as a probable human carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency. Studies of workers exposed to the chemical have suggested an association between exposure and cancers, including nasopharyngeal cancer and leukemia.

Formaldehyde is considered highly toxic to all animals. The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has previously said the spill had no impact on wildlife.

The Associated Press contributed to this story



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