4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol spill in West Virginia

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On Thursday, January 9, 2014, it was discovered that an undetermined amount of a coal-washing chemical, 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol (MCHM), had leaked from a 48,000-gallon tank owned by industrial chemical producer Freedom Industries and entered the Elk River at Charleston, West Virginia, USA, "sending a strange licorice-like smell wafting through the surrounding streets"[1] and affecting the water supply of 250,000 - 300,000 people in nine counties.[2] The West Virginia American Water Company, water supplier to most of the affected population, discovered the spill on Thursday morning but did not issue a warning to its customers until that evening.[3]. The chemical resembles cooking oil floating on top of water and causes severe burning in the throat, severe eye irritation, non-stop vomiting, trouble breathing, or severe skin irritation such as skin blistering.[4] The amount of chemical spilled was unknown as of Friday, January 10. There was a possibility that the leak had been going on for sometime before its discovery on January 9, according to Laura Jordan, a water company spokesperson.[5] Also unknown was when safe water supply could be restored; the entire system including fire hydrants must be flushed. Boiling does not remove the chemical. As of January 10, Freedom Industries was working to contain the leak.

The Federal and West Virginia governments declared a state of emergency. Schools, government offices, restaurants, and other businesses closed. National Guard and Federal Emergency Management Agency personnel distributed bottled as well as trucked-in water.


  1. Bratau and Austin
  2. Williams and Southall
  3. Alternet
  4. Bratau and Austin
  5. Alternet


Alternet, 10 Jan 2014 "W.Virginia Declares State of Emergency After Huge Chemical Spill"
[ www.alternet.org/environment/w-virginia-declares-state-emergency-after-huge-chemical-spill ]

Becky Bratau and Henry Austin (NBC, 10 Jan 2014), "West Virginia Chemical Spill Cuts Water to up to 300,000, State of Emergency Declared" [ usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2014/01/09/22245996-west-virginia-chemical-spill-cuts-water-to-up-to-300000-state-of-emergency-declared?lite ]

Timothy Williams and Anthony Southall (New York Times, 10 January 2014), "Chemical Spill leaves Thousands Without Water in West Virginia" [ www.nytimes.com/2014/01/11/us/west-virginia-chemical-spill.html ]