CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The state of West Virginia sent a fact sheet meant to answer questions about the health impacts of Crude MCHM to doctors, nurses and hospitals in counties affected by the Elk River chemical spill.
MCHM is the coal-cleaning chemical that contaminated the region's drinking water.
The fact sheet, prepared by the West Virginia Poison Center and the Mid-Atlantic Center for Children's Health and the Environment, provides helpful, well-publicized information about the chemical leak, but also reveals how little is still known about the chemical's health effects.
Dated Feb. 10, the fact sheet was not distributed to health professionals until more than a month after the leak was discovered, although Dr. Letitia Tierney, commissioner of the state Bureau of Public Health, requested it be made a few weeks ago, according to a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Resources.
A prior fact sheet, sent the night of the leak, told health professionals that there was no information on the chemical's toxicity, but that skin irritation and vomiting were possible. That sheet was updated three days later to include additional symptoms, to warn of dehydration and to say that odor in the water was not an indicator that the water was toxic.
The Feb. 10, fact sheet is set up as a series of questions and answers. The authors ask themselves several simple "yes or no" questions that they do not answer quite so simply.
"Are there any long term health concerns for my patients?" the fact sheet asks.
As there are no long-term studies of the chemical, the answer is not definite.
"The short term exposures to MCHM and PPH in drinking water in West Virginia are not expected to result in long term health effects," the sheet answers.
"Will the health agencies be studying this event further?" the fact sheet asks.
Again, there is no "yes or no" answer.