Researchers at Virginia Tech University are currently conducting a series of studies to unravel and identify the composition of the virus that contaminated the region last January. These investigations could strongly benefit companies such as HMS Plumbing, where workers could become aware of what they were dealing with and be able to advise.

The research in question is being funded by a grant in excess of $50.000 (£30.100), provided by the National Science Foundation under their Rapid Response programme. Its objective is to isolate and study the properties of one of the chemicals found leaking into the River Elk, a compound known as crude 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, or MCHM for short. This toxin is widely believed to have been responsible for contaminating the potable water of roughly 300.000 West Virginia homes, causing a number of poison-related illnesses in residents of the area.

According to the parties in charge of the research, which include a senior analytical chemist from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, MCHM is most commonly used to separate and clean coal products, and is easily identified by a strong licorice odour. The objective of this study is to further probe into the properties of the toxin, namely to determine what its long-term fate may be when mixed with potable water, and whether or not it will react to plastic pipe and epoxy liners in water tanks. Based on these findings, the team in charge of the project will be able to come up with a series of pre-emptive measures to remediate the effects of MCHM in the water distribution system.

Due to the scarcity of information about this chemical — typical of toxins grandfathered under the Toxic Substances Control Act — the Virginia Tech research team, which includes several students, was forced to come up with its own models to estimate the toxicity of this chemical and its interactions with both plastic piping and drinking water. Once a definitive set of results is achieved, the team plans to share this knowledge with the relevant communities, including top plumbing companies like HMS Plumbing, in order to prevent future accidents.

The Rapid Response Grant, usually reserved for large-scale disasters, was previously attributed to teams studying the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill or the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean.

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10319 Piper Lane
Manassas, VA 20110
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