Despite living in downtown Charleston, West Virginia, Jody and Scott MacMillian support their healthy, organic lifestyle by keeping several chickens in their backyard for fresh eggs.
When the Elk River was contaminated with 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM) earlier this month, Scott immediately shut off the water to the house and waited until the water company gave the all-clear before flushing his pipes.
“It was a mess,” he said. “I followed the water company’s instructions to the letter, but running the hot water made the whole house stink like licorice.”
MCHM, a colorless oil that smells like licorice, is dangerous if ingested, comes in contact with skin, or if it is inhaled. Consequently, the couple opened windows and doors to air out their home, but they say the smell never really went away. Thus they continued using bottled water for themselves and Jody’s son and rainwater for their chickens.
A few days after we’d been in Charleston, the couple called their friend Paul Brown, president of the local activist group Keepers of the Mountains, about what they feared was a spill-related problem.
“Our eggs are blue and when we cracked one open, it smelled like licorice,” Scott said over the phone to Brown late Tuesday afternoon as he and I drove in the car.
Brown reported back to me several days later after visiting the couple and helping to deliver the eggs to a testing agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“The eggs definitely have a blue tint,” Brown said by phone, “but we didn’t crack any open because the lab wanted all the samples they could get.”
The couple had told Brown that, in addition to the tinted eggs, their chickens now have blue excrement and are fouling their roost with it for the first time. The chickens are also supposedly pecking each other like never before.
While there’s no proof of contamination yet, we can confirm that the eggs looked weird to Andrew Whelton, an assistant professor of environmental engineering at the University of Southern Alabama who is part of a team testing water in the area.
“They were certainly odd looking,” Whelton said over the phone Tuesday afternoon. “They’re not all blue, but it’s there in splotches. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
We will follow up this story with the lab results when they become available.
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