Chemistry and Life

Medicinal chemistry. Pharmacology. Toxicology. Environmental sciences.

4-Methylcyclohexanemethanol spill

2 Comments

chemical structure of 4-methylcyclohexanemethanolA recent spill in West Virginia of a chemical called 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol (MCHM) has been in the news for the last few days.  It was being used to wash coal to remove dust from it before being transported.  A storage tank leaked, allowing it to seep into a river where drinking water is obtained.

MCHM isn’t a commonly used industrial chemical and little is known about its toxicology or the health effects of exposure to it.

This brings up the interesting problem of how to handle this situation when so little is known about the chemical.  The local authorities seem to be just telling the residents not to drink the water and waiting until it the problem resolves itself.

From looking at the chemical structure of MCHM, it doesn’t have any obvious warning signs.  It is a low molecular weight alcohol, an isomer of octanol, which tend to be fairly benign.  But sometimes chemicals can be harmful in surprising ways.

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2 thoughts on “4-Methylcyclohexanemethanol spill

  1. It is not exactly an isomer of octanol.

    • Yes, you’re right, it doesn’t fit the strict definition of a constitutional isomer of octanol. But chemists tend to be inclusive in the way that they refer to classes of chemicals. Cyclohexanol is commonly referred to as a hexanol, for example, even though they differ by two hydrogen atoms. 4-Methylcyclohexanemethanol and octanol are closely related as eight carbon alkanols and therefore would be expected to have very similar chemical and physical properties. So it makes sense in my mind to lump them in together as octanols.

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