CDC: Levels of formaldehyde reportedly - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

CDC: Levels of formaldehyde detected in restaurant "commonly encountered"

Posted: Updated:

Federal health officials say the level of formaldehyde reportedly detected in a local health restaurant is "commonly encountered."

Formaldehyde, a widely-used chemical, can be detected in both indoor and outdoor environments in low-level traces, according to Dr. Vikas Kapil, a senior medical officer for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Kapil answered questions in response to the evolving water crisis affecting nine counties in West Virginia. State officials lambasted a presentation made during a joint legislative committee Wednesday morning. Scott Simonton, a professor and member of the state Environmental Quality Board, claimed he found levels of formaldehyde at Vandalia Grille in downtown Charleston.

The law firm Thompson Bailey hired Simonton and other specialists to independently test the water after 10,000 gallons of crude MCHM leaked from a storage tank at Freedom Industries, a facility on the Elk River. The team sampled water across the system, but they received the results from Vandalia first. Levels of formaldehyde were detected at 32-33 ug/l or parts per billion (ppb) from three locations within the restaurant, according to results presented during the testimony.

The revelation created a fire storm among state officials, many of whom denied formaldehyde decomposed from the crude MCHM, as Simonton hypothesized. A release from the WV Dept. of Health and Human Resources questioned the methodology and procedures surrounding Simonton's testing.

(State officials dispute claim formaldehyde linked to chemical leak)

"The only way formaldehyde could be created from that as a byproduct if it was heated at 500 degrees Fahrenheit," said Dr. Letitia Tierney, the commissioner for the state bureau of health, during an interview Wednesday.

This calculation was stated by "subject matter experts" who had been helping West Virginia during the water crisis, according to the WV Department of Health and Human Resources. Federal health officials could not comment on the combustion point.

"I'm not an expert in the chemistry of these compounds, so I won't be able to comment on that," Dr. Kapil said. He mentioned the CDC did not issue specific recommendations to West Virginia on formaldehyde during the water crisis, but he did point toward several health advisories published the agency's website.

Guidelines posted on the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry list several ranges for formaldehyde exposure:

10 ppb refers to a "lower range" reading, where risk is low.
"These levels are found on the streets of many cities and in many buildings," the website reads.

100 ppb refers to an "intermediate range," where risk of irritation from formaldehyde exposure is lower, but it is still important to take steps to limit your formaldehyde exposure, especially for elderly persons, children, or those with health conditions (i.e. Asthma.)

1000 ppb refers to a "higher range," in which people are warned to lower exposure to formaldehyde. The same precautions stand for susceptible populations.

"The kinds of levels being reported are commonly encountered both in indoor and outdoor environments," said Dr. Kapil, referring to the 32 ppb measurement reportedly found in Vandalia.

The federal government also developed formaldehyde recommendations in drinking water.

"The EPA has determined that lifetime exposure to 1 ppm formaldehyde in drinking water is not expected to cause any adverse effects," according to the recommendations listed on the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

"The EPA has also determined that exposure to formaldehyde in drinking water at concentrations of 10 parts per million (ppm) for 1 day or 5 ppm for 10 days is not expected to cause any adverse effects in a child."

Dr. Kapil said in "higher doses" of formaldehyde can cause adverse health effects, such as irritation of the eyes, throat, nose, skin and other respiratory problems.

"The dose determines the effect of the poison," he said. 

The CDC lists several products containing some traces of formaldehyde. These items include paper, cosmetics, and detergents.

Dr. Tierney cited the World Health Organization, which considers formaldehyde as the "most frequent aldehyde found in nature and is naturally measurable in air and water."

For that reason, formaldehyde is something that's not normally tested, Dr. Tierney told reporters Wednesday.