Abstract

Chemical spills polluting drinking water are often mixtures with each chemical having unique characteristics for partitioning, toxicity, and odour leading to significant differences in human risk exposures. A 2014 chemical spill of crude (4-methylcyclohexyl)methanol (MCHM) resulted in a $126 million USD fine to the water utility. The spill consisted of at least ten chemicals including 34% cis- and 60% trans-4-MCHM and 0.7% cis- and 0.3% trans-methyl-4-methylcyclohexanecarboxylate (MMCHC). While a very minor component, trans-MMCHC contributed substantially to odour because of its high Henry's Law Constant, 2.23 × 10−2 at 40 °C showering, and low odour threshold concentration (OTC), 0.02 ppb-v, air. Using USEPA risk assessment parameters in a 15-minute shower model with influent concentration of 42 ppb-aq cis- and trans-4-MMCHC, representative of initial spill concentrations in the distribution system, adult ingestion and inhalation for trans-MMCHC were almost equal, 4.00 × 10−4 and 4.26 × 10−4 mg/kg/d, respectively. For children, inhalation doses exceeded ingestion dose: 1.72 × 10−3 mg/kg/d versus 0.93 × 10−3 mg/kg/day trans-MMCHC. This exposure assessment with varying OTC for crude MCHM chemicals reinforces considering chemical, physical, and biological properties of all chemicals in the spill. Consumers aware of their exposure to chemicals in drinking water lost consumer confidence; the water utility was required to compensate individuals and businesses for financial losses.

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