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CDC’s MCHM health study still incomplete

By Ken Ward Jr., Staff writer
AP file photo
The area outside a retaining wall around Freedom Industries storage tanks, from where a chemical leaked into the Elk River in Charleston, is inspected on Jan. 13. The leak of the coal-cleaning chemical Crude MCHM contaminated the potable water for 300,000 West Virginians.

Three months after the Elk River chemical leak, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still hasn’t released its promised analysis of the medical records for residents who sought hospital treatment after exposure to the chemical MCHM.

CDC officials have told the state the medical-chart review “was placed on the fast track” and should be provided sometime this month, but no specific date has been given, said Allison Adler, a spokeswoman for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.

A spokeswoman for the CDC did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Last week, CDC spokeswoman Bernadette Burden said, “The time it takes to review reports like this varies.” She said the CDC would provide its analysis as soon as the agency’s review is complete. The CDC previously has said it would provide the report to the state and that it would be up to the state to make it public.

On Thursday, the DHHR announced that it is ready to begin separate work on a door-to-door survey of residents that aims to assess the impact of the leak, which contaminated the water supply for 300,000 residents in a nine-county region around Charleston.

The Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response, or CASPER, survey will be conducted Tuesday through Thursday, the DHHR said in a prepared statement.

Officials from the DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health, the CDC and the West Virginia University School of Public Health will go door to door to randomly survey selected households about public-health concerns during the leak, the DHHR said. Surveyors will carry official credentials to identify themselves as public-health staff. All responses will be voluntary and will be kept confidential, the DHHR statement said.

While the hospital-chart review provides information about the more than 500 residents who sought medical treatment at hospitals after exposure to the coal-cleaning chemical Crude MCHM, the door-to-door survey will give scientists information about a more random selection of residents.

Loretta Haddy, state epidemiologist with the Bureau for Public Health, has said the survey would involve more than 200 homes. Residents will be asked a variety of questions about the chemical leak, including if they were exposed to the water and if they experienced any health problems.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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