ON Jan. 25, the Daily Mail published an opinion piece I wrote on a data-driven approach I am using to answer the question — Is the water safe to drink? In the two weeks that have followed, I have read a number of technical articles, discussed the water chemistry with colleagues and requested additional data to help me answer the question for myself, family and friends.
After the first article I was contacted by numerous people who are concerned about the water crisis and what they should do to make sure the water is safe to drink.
I preface this column by saying I am not working for West Virginia American Water Co. and I am not retained by any law firm regarding pending litigation related to the water crisis.
I am simply a water customer who is an engineer and chemist who has designed water treatment plants for 37 years. My purpose for writing is to assist my family and the community to obtain good data in order to make good decisions regarding drinking the water after the water distribution system and my home plumbing have been flushed.
What else have we learned since Jan. 25?
1. Does the MCHM stick to the water pipes, hot water and appliances? To answer this question, we need to know the partition coefficient for MCHM. Fortunately, a study has been conducted on water pipes of different types including PVC, ductile iron, copper, galvanized steel and other pipe materials.
Many organic compounds of varying partition coefficients were added to the pipes and measurements were taken. It was concluded the organic compounds with low partition coefficients did not stick to the pipe.
This fact is very important in understanding if flushing will work to get the MCHM out of the pipe and hot water tanks. We are very fortunate that MCHM has a low partition coefficient. We now know with some degree of certainty MCHM is being successfully flushed from the main lines in the distribution system and the laboratory testing confirms most areas are at non-detect concentrations.
Great! But I can still smell the licorice in the water! What do I do?
2. We now know the threshold odor index is much lower than originally estimated, which is a very good piece of information when determining is the water safe to drink.
The human nose is a much more sensitive measurement device than many analytical instruments. The laboratory gas chromatographs and mass spectrometers tell us the concentration is below detection. However, our nose tells us the MCHM is still present in very low concentrations.
But is it safe to drink? I am not a doctor or health official. However, this water customer will not drink or cook with the water until the licorice odor disappears.
3. We know the flushing of the lines works as long as the water being produced from the water treatment plant no longer contains MCHM. The laboratory data confirms this fact.