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Columbus Chemists Called to Help with W.Va. Water Crisis

COLUMBUS (Lu Ann Stoia/Kate Liebers) -- The National Guard sought help in Columbus after a chemical spill poisoned the West Virginia water supply.

Chemists at Battelle Institute have been studying water samples to determine the amount of 4-methylcyclohexane (MCHM) within it.

Officials said that even in its most concentrated form, MCHM isn't deadly. Still, experts have told West Virginians that it can cause symptoms ranging from skin irritation and rashes to vomiting and diarrhea.

"There is not a lot known about it in the chemical literature," said Mark Bauer, a research chemist at Battelle.

To learn more, Battelle trained national guardsmen to properly pull water samples from across the Kanawha Valley in West Virginia. The Columbus chemists expect to analyze the chemicals for several more days.

"The chemistry is important because we need to make sure that, ultimately, the water is safe to drink," research chemist Julie Peters said. "We don't want anybody getting sick and we don't want any long-term effects."

MCHM is used in the mining process. West Virginia officials said an estimated 7,500 gallons of the compound leaked from a tank. Some of it was contained before flowing into the river.

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