The inconveniences experienced by Barbara Warren and Madan Bhasin, two acquaintances/coworkers of mine at the former Union Carbide Corp. Technical Center in South Charleston, W.Va., were interesting and worth noting (C&EN, March 3, page 4). However, equally pertinent are potential unknown dangers caused by the presence of 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol (MCHM) in our water supply for several months.
For example, my physician (Steven Zekan, who has an office on Kanawha Boulevard in Charleston) brought to my attention some white, opaque rubber tubing (~3/8 inch outside diameter) used in instrumentation in his office and that had become nonfunctional. The tainted city water had been sitting in the tubing for about two to three weeks. The rubber tubing no longer possessed the elastomeric properties of rubber. It had become hard and brittle and snapped like a wooden lead pencil.
I have not seen mention of this deleterious effect of MCHM on rubber in Charleston’s newspapers or local TV, which summarized the LD50 from the material safety data sheet but not other properties of the chemical. Our preliminary observation suggests several lines of inquiry. Do the Freedom Industries storage tanks contain any gaskets that could have deteriorated?
Also, Charleston residences would do well to keep an eye out for the possible embrittlement of rubber items such as hoses, washers, gaskets, seals, and the like in their home appliances including dishwashers, hot-water tanks, and toilet tanks by having been exposed to water tainted with MCHM.
Anthony J. (Tony) Papa
Saint Albans, W.Va.