Tests on the water supply in Charleston, W.Va., a week after a chemical spill tainted the city's water system turned up traces of formaldehyde, suggesting that "there's a lot more we don't know" about the consequences of the spill, an environmental expert told a state legislative committee Wednesday.
That expert, Scott Simonton, a member of the state's Environmental Quality Board, told the panel that he could guarantee that some West Virginians were breathing formaldehyde gas when they showered, news reports stated.
He did not specify the level of formaldehyde found in the sample, which the Charleston Daily Mail reported was taken from a downtown restaurant on Jan. 13. Nor was it clear why he was certain that city water remained contaminated more than two weeks later.
Simonton, an environmental science professor at Marshall University, said the formaldehyde was a product of the breakdown of a coal-washing chemical commonly known as MCHM. The top executive of the state Department of Environmental Protection, Randy Huffman, said the government did not know whether the formaldehyde was related to the chemical spill or whether it was an isolated instance linked to the restaurant where it was found.
In a statement issued later Wednesday, West Virginia's public health commissioner, Letitia Tierney, called Simonton's claims "totally unfounded," saying formaldehyde is ubiquitous in daily life and produced by the body, and that it could not logically have originated with the spill.