West Virginia University Continues Testing for MCHM Contamination

Feb 7, 2014

Filling Up — Jason Fillhart, from West Virginia Water Research Institute, leans off a boat dock to collect a water sample.
Credit Raymond Thompson / WVU

West Virginia University researchers say, in an effort to fulfill their land-grant institution mission of serving communities in the state, they stepped up to begin a research project to study the Elk River Chemical spill. University funds as well as a grant from the National Science Foundation have provided seed money to immediately collect perishable data to conduct this study.

Lead Researchers:

  • Jennifer Weidhaaf  - Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Lian-Shin Lin - Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering


  • To assess chemical exposure to residents
  • To develop appropriate responses to disasters that could compromise other water distribution systems

Step One:

Weidhaaf says money from the university was allocated right after news spread about the spill to start sampling immediately in homes, along the river, in the sediments, and in other areas throughout the Kanawha Valley. Then, as that work was underway, they applied to the National Science Foundation and were awarded funding to conduct follow-up studies.

Weidhaaf explains that her team took samples from within homes before the flushing process, as well as immediately after, then again a week later.

Sampling Continues:

Weidhaaf says they are beginning to see concentrations come down, and that they plan to do at least one more round of post-flush sampling.

“It’s hard to say how long things will stay in their system because, if you look at the data that’s reported on the Department of Homeland Security and Environmental Management, there’s still periodic detections of MCHM in their systems,” she says.

Preliminary Findings: 

Flushing wasn’t as effective as officials hoped it would be.

Weidhaaf  says that in all the houses that they sampled, the concentrations were well below the CDC-recommended 1 parts per million threshold of MCHM in the water—concentrations which shouldn’t pose risks to the residents.

“But again,” Weidhaaf says, “I don’t think that flushing campaign was necessarily as effective as [West Virginia] American Water wanted it to be.”