Article courtesy of Charles P. Schade, Nasandra Wright, Rahul Gupta, David A. Latif, Ayan Jha, John Robinson | May 7, 2015 | PLOS| Shared as educational material
A January 2014 industrial accident contaminated the public water supply of approximately 300,000 homes in and near Charleston, West Virginia (USA) with low levels of a strongly-smelling substance consisting principally of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM). The ensuing state of emergency closed schools and businesses. Hundreds of people sought medical care for symptoms they related to the incident. We surveyed 498 households by telephone to assess the episode’s health and economic impact as well as public perception of risk communication by responsible officials. Thirty two percent of households (159/498) reported someone with illness believed to be related to the chemical spill, chiefly dermatological or gastrointestinal symptoms. Respondents experienced more frequent symptoms of psychological distress during and within 30 days of the emergency than 90 days later. Sixty-seven respondent households (13%) had someone miss work because of the crisis, missing a median of 3 days of work. Of 443 households reporting extra expenses due to the crisis, 46% spent less than $100, while 10% spent over $500 (estimated average about $206). More than 80% (401/485) households learned of the spill the same day it occurred. More than 2/3 of households complied fully with “do not use” orders that were issued; only 8% reported drinking water against advice. Household assessments of official communications varied by source, with local officials receiving an average “B” rating, whereas some federal and water company communication received a “D” grade. More than 90% of households obtained safe water from distribution centers or stores during the emergency. We conclude that the spill had major economic impact with substantial numbers of individuals reporting incident-related illnesses and psychological distress. Authorities were successful supplying emergency drinking water, but less so with risk communication.
To read this research article, click: Self-Reported Household Impacts of Large-Scale Chemical Contamination of the Public Water Supply, Charleston, West Virginia, USA