I live in Charleston, WV. On 1/9/2014 we were told not to use our tap water for anything other than flushing the toilet after a storage facility leaked over 7,400 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol into the Elk river, less than two miles up-river from the water company's main in-take.

The CDC said that concentrations under 1ppm were safe. After a week of bathing in my sink and drinking bottled water, my area was determined to be safe, however my water still has a strong odor.

There is not much information about this chemical's health effects. While the chemical itself is low-toxicity, I wonder if it might react with items in the water supply to create other compounds which may be more toxic.

Specifically, would this chemical react with chlorine in the water, or cast iron, PVC, and copper in the pipes? Does anyone have any experience with this compound?


1 Answer 1


The name MCHM or "4-methycycloheaxe methanol" (as newspapers reported it) is not entirely a systematic name and is a little ambiguous. The actual compound is better called 4-methylcyclohexylmethanol and the structure is shown below:MCHM structure

Specific details about its toxicity are not easy to find, though it has been patented as an air freshener ingredient. It has also been around for a long time and is used in the coal industry as a frothing agent in significant quantities so if it had some particularly nasty property we would probably know by now. Some safety information is available (pdf) on the related 1,4-cyclohexanedimethanol and that isn't particularly toxic. So there doesn't seem to be any strong reason to worry about it, though it will taint the flavour of water. There are no obvious paths for it to known nasties in low concentrations in water, so the biggest worry is probably the taint.

Having said all this, the company should not have let it get into the water supply.


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