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West Virginia Chemical Spill

NTP has completed the West Virginia chemical spill research program. The Final NTP Update serves as NTP's overall interpretation of its studies on the spilled chemicals.

Background Information

In January 2014, approximately 10,000 gallons of chemicals used to process coal spilled from a storage tank into the Elk River in West Virginia. The Elk River is a municipal water source which serves about 300,000 people in the Charleston area.

In July 2014, NTP received a nomination from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) to conduct toxicity studies on the predominant chemicals known to be involved in the West Virginia chemical spill. The primary spilled agent was 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol (MCHM). The chemicals dipropyleneglycol phenyl ether (DiPPH) and propylene glycol phenyl ether (PPH) were also present in smaller amounts. Limited data were available to address concerns about potential human health effects of the compounds in the spilled liquid, so NTP studied a number of chemicals (see Table of Chemicals Evaluated in NTP Studies).

Summary of NTP Efforts

NTP has completed the West Virginia chemical spill research program. NTP's Final Update, collective findings, and supporting files are now available. In addition, the original NTP Research Project Plan and summary are available.

NTP carried out a research program to predict the toxicity of chemicals present in the West Virginia Elk River chemical spill. NTP used several experimental approaches, including rodent studies, toxicity tests in cells, other lower animal species such as fish and worms, and computer modeling. Throughout a year of conducting these studies, NTP regularly provided updates on progress and results.

All NTP studies on the spilled chemicals focused on determining the adequacy of the drinking water screening levels based on the recommended limits by the CDC at the time of the spill. The results indicate that exposure to MCHM at or below the screening level is not likely to be associated with any known health effects. Birthweights from West Virginia birth certificates were also analyzed to assess potential consequences of the chemical spill on human birthweight. The analysis found that there were no meaningful differences in birthweight associated with the timing of the chemical spill.

These NTP studies strengthened our knowledge about the toxicity of MCHM and other spilled chemicals, and reduced uncertainty about the drinking water screening levels set at the time of the spill.

NTP Studies & Findings

NTP received nominations to conduct toxicology studies related to the 2014 Elk River spill in West Virginia. The nominations were from the CDC and the ATSDR.

NTP conducted a number of short studies to provide information for public health decision makers and residents of Charleston. The studies focused on the major and most concerning constituents of the spilled liquid.

Using rodents and other model organisms, NTP looked for potential developmental effects by using the following techniques:

  • Used cellular, molecular, and computer modeling approaches to identify what biological systems were affected.
  • Evaluated chemicals of more limited concern, such as minor constituents of the spilled liquid.
  • Used efficient medium and high-throughput testing methods to derive information for predicting the potential effects of the spilled chemicals.
  • Assessed the potential for short-term exposures to produce long-lasting adverse health effects.
  • Using several assessments, evaluated effects on fetal and early life development—effects which are often irreversible.

NTP shared results from these studies on its website as they became available.

Chemicals Evaluated in NTP Studies
Chemical Reason Selected for Study Spilled Liquid
Crude 4-methyl­cyclo­hexane­methanol (Crude MCHM) Commercial product present in the leaking tank; a mixture of MCHM, MMCHM, MMCHC, DMCHDC, CHDM, and methanol. Component
4-Methyl­cyclo­hexane­methanol (MCHM) Major component of crude MCHM and the spilled liquid (more than 50% by weight of crude MCHM). Component
1,4-Cyclo­hexane­di­methanol (CHDM) Minor component of crude MCHM and the spilled liquid. Component
Dimethyl 1,4-cyclo­hexane­di­carboxylate (DMCHDC) Minor component of crude MCHM and the spilled liquid. Component
4-(Meth­oxy­methyl)­cyclo­hexane­methanol (MMCHM) Minor component of crude MCHM and the spilled liquid. Component
Methyl 4-methyl­cyclo­hexane­carboxylate (MMCHC) Minor component of crude MCHM and the spilled liquid. Component
Propylene glycol phenyl ether (PPH) A proprietary mixture primarily composed of PPH and DiPPh was in the same leaking tank as the crude MCHM. This mixture is estimated to be less than 10% by weight of the total amount of liquid in the tank. Component
Dipropylene glycol phenyl ether (DiPPh) A proprietary mixture primarily composed of PPH and DiPPh was in the same leaking tank as the crude MCHM. This mixture is estimated to be less than 10% by weight of the total amount of liquid in the tank. Component
Cyclo­hexane­methanol, 4-[(ethenyloxy)­methyl]- Structurally related to MCHM. Non-Component
Cyclo­hexane­methanol, alpha, alpha,4-trimethyl- Structurally related to MCHM. Non-Component
4-Methyl­cyclo­hexane­carboxylic acid Structurally related to MCHM. Non-Component
2-Methyl­cyclo­hexane­methanol (2MCHM) Structurally related to MCHM. Non-Component
Phenoxy­iso­propanol Structurally related to PPH. Non-Component
DOWANOL™ DiPPh A proprietary commercial mixture of DiPPh isomers, and DiPPh is a minor constituent of the spilled liquid. Non-Component

The exact concentrations of chemicals in the Freedom Industries storage tank that leaked into the Elk River were uncertain. Even with this uncertainty, the available information clearly showed that the major contaminant of potential concern was MCHM. Each of the other chemicals in the spilled liquid were estimated to have been at five- to 10-fold lower concentration.

NTP's toxicology studies focused on all chemicals known to be involved in the spill. The broad focus enabled study participants to (1) qualitatively assess whether different types of effects would be expected; and (2) quantitatively assess the concentration at which effects occurred.

Collective NTP Studies and Findings

All NTP updates, data, and supporting files are now available from research on the chemicals spilled into the Elk River in West Virginia. The Final Update serves as NTP's overall interpretation of its studies on the spilled chemicals.

Study Description Findings & Supporting Files
High-throughput screening Assays to derive information about cellular and molecular targets and use for predicting potential biological effects
Bacterial mutagenicity Assays used to evaluate if a chemical can damage DNA
Mouse dermal irritation and hypersensitivity Assays to evaluate the ability of chemicals to cause skin inflammation by directly damaging cells (irritation) or by inducing an immune response known as allergic hypersensitivity or contact allergy
Nematode (Caenorhabditis elegans) toxicity Short-term study to evaluate chemical effects over the life span of the organisms
Rat 5-day toxicogenomic Short-term toxicity studies which identify subtle effects of a chemical on molecular processes in the liver and kidney, and examine toxic effects in blood and damage to DNA (genetic toxicity)
Rat prenatal developmental toxicity A study where rats are exposed to a chemical throughout pregnancy to determine if it produces adverse effects on the developing fetus
Structure-activity relationship analysis A computational assessment that uses chemical structure to predict toxicological and biological properties
Zebrafish developmental toxicity and photomotor response Short-term study to evaluate developmental effects in a vertebrate model system

Informational Resources

Many informational resources on NTP's research surrounding the West Virginia Chemical Spill are provided below.

Fact Sheet
Newsletters
Presentations

Contributors & Acknowledgments

Contributors

Project Management Team

Responsible for oversight and coordination of all project activities including planning, conduct, evaluation, and review of studies, and interpretation and communication of findings:

  • Scott Auerbach (NTP project leader), NIEHS
  • John Bucher, NIEHS
  • Scott Masten, NIEHS
  • Nigel Walker, NIEHS
  • Mary Wolfe, NIEHS
  • Yun Xie, NIEHS
Study Coordinators

Responsible for coordination of project activities related to individual studies including planning, conduct, evaluation, and review of studies, and interpretation and communication of findings:

  • Scott Auerbach (rat 5-day toxicogenomic), NIEHS
  • Chad Blystone (rat prenatal developmental toxicity), NIEHS
  • Windy Boyd (nematode toxicity), NIEHS
  • Brad Collins (chemical characterization), NIEHS
  • Dori Germolec (mouse dermal irritation and hypersensitivity), NIEHS
  • Jui-Hua Hsieh (high-throughput screening), Kelly Government Solutions
  • Scott Masten (structure-activity relationship), NIEHS
  • Katherine Pelch (zebrafish developmental toxicity and photomotor response), NIEHS
  • Kristine Witt (bacterial mutagenicity and in vivo micronucleus), NIEHS
NIEHS Federal Staff Contributors

Contributed substantially to one or more project activities for a study including protocol development, analysis of findings, data management and integration, and interpretation and communication of findings:

  • Beth Bowden
  • Michelle Cora
  • Helen Cunny
  • Stephen Ferguson
  • Jennifer Fostel
  • Paul Foster
  • Shawn Jeter
  • Grace Kissling
  • Barry McIntyre
  • Julie Rice
  • Veronica Godfrey Robinson
  • Stephanie Smith-Roe
  • Raymond Tice (retired)
  • Greg Travlos
  • Molly Vallant
  • Suramya Waidyanatha
Contract Contributors

Battelle

Conducted rat 5-day toxicogenomic studies:

  • Milton Hejtmancik (contract principal investigator)
  • Patricia Athey
  • Nicholas Machesky
  • Michael Ryan
  • Anthony Skowronek
  • Barney Sparrow

Burleson Research Technologies

Conducted studies on mouse dermal irritation and hypersensitivity:

  • Victor Johnson (contract principal investigator)
  • Florence Burleson
  • Gary Burleson
  • Michael Luster

ILS, Inc.

Conducted studies on structure-activity relationships:

  • David Allen (contract principal investigator)
  • Neepa Choski

Conducted bacterial mutagenicity studies and micronucleus assessments in rats:

  • Leslie Recio (contract principal investigator)
  • Cheryl Hobbs
  • Kim Shepard
  • Carol Swartz

MRIGlobal

Provided support for chemical characterization:

  • Joseph Algaier (contract principal investigator)
  • Kristin Aillon

Oregon State University

Conducted studies on zebrafish developmental toxicity and photomotor response:

  • Robert Tanguay (contract principal investigator)
  • Gregory Gonnerman
  • Michael Simonich
  • Lisa Truong

RTI International

Provided support for chemical characterization:

  • Reshan Fernando (contract principal investigator)
  • James Blake

Sciome, LLC

Provided support for 5-day toxicogenomic studies:

  • Ruchir Shah (contract principal investigator)
  • Jason Phillips
  • Dan Svoboda

Social & Scientific Systems, Inc.

Provided support for statistical analyses:

  • Marjolein Smith (contract principal investigator)
  • Laura Betz
  • Matthew Bridge

Southern Research Institute

Conducted studies on prenatal developmental toxicity:

  • Charles Hébert (contract principal investigator)
  • Eve Mylchreest

Vistronix

Provided support for data analysis and management, and web design:

  • Asif Rashid (contract principal investigator)
  • Julie Berke
  • Cari Favaro
  • Xiaohua Gao
  • Anand Paleja
  • Rebeeca Whittlesey
Web Contract Support

John T. Tate (program manager), Signature Consulting Group

Signature Consulting Group

Provided information technology and support services:

  • Mark Colebank
  • Rani Mekala
  • James Stojan

Inoventures, LLC

Provided support for web page design:

  • Michael Stamper

SciMetrika, LLC

Provided support for web communications:

  • Miriam Gattis
  • Shannon Lloyd
  • Nicole Roach
Peer Reviewers

The external scientists listed below peer reviewed one or more of the following NTP studies on the spilled chemicals: bacterial mutagenicity, 5-day rat toxicogenomics, high-throughput screening assays, mouse dermal irritation and hypersensitivity, nematode (Caenorhabditis elegans) toxicity, prenatal developmental toxicity, and zebrafish developmental toxicity and photomotor response.

  • Patrick Allard, Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles, CA
  • Erik C. Andersen, Ph.D., Northwestern University, Evanston, IL
  • William J. Breslin, Ph.D., Eli Lilly and Company, Indianapolis, IN
  • Michael John Carvan III, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI
  • Harvey Joseph Clewell III, Ph.D., DABT, ScitoVation, Research Triangle Park, NC
  • George P. Daston, Ph.D., Procter & Gamble Company, Cincinnati, OH
  • Christopher S. Farabaugh, Ph.D., Charles River Laboratories, Skokie, IL
  • Steven D. Holladay, Ph.D., University of Georgia, Athens, GA
  • Donald B. Stedman, Pfizer, Groton, CT

Acknowledgments

We thank former NIEHS staff Dr. Jonathan Freedman, University of Louisville, for the use of equipment to conduct the nematode toxicity study.

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