Assessing human exposure and odor detection during showering with crude 4-(methylcyclohexyl)methanol (MCHM) contaminated drinking water

Sci Total Environ. 2015 Dec 15;538:298-305. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2015.08.050. Epub 2015 Aug 24.


In 2014, crude (4-methylcyclohexyl)methanol (MCHM) spilled, contaminating the drinking water of 300,000 West Virginians and requiring "do not use" orders to protect human health. When the spill occurred, known crude MCHM physicochemical properties were insufficient to predict human inhalation and ingestion exposures. Objectives are (1) determine Henry's Law Constants (HLCs) for 4-MCHM isomers at 7, 25, 40, and 80°C using gas chromatography; (2) predict air concentrations of 4-MCHM and methyl-4-methylcyclohexanecarboxylate (MMCHC) during showering using an established shower model; (3) estimate human ingestion and inhalation exposure to 4-MCHM and MMCHC; and (4) determine if predicted air 4-MCHM exceeded odor threshold concentrations. Dimensionless HLCs of crude cis- and trans-4-MCHM were measured to be 1.42×10(-4)±6% and 3.08×10(-4)±3% at 25°C, respectively, and increase exponentially with temperature as predicted by the van't Hoff equation. Shower air concentrations for cis- and trans-4-MCHM are predicted to be 0.089 and 0.390ppm-v respectively after 10min, exceeding the US EPA's 0.01ppm-v air screening level during initial spill conditions. Human exposure doses were predicted using measured drinking water and predicted shower air concentrations and found to greatly exceed available guidance levels in the days directly following the spill. Odors would be rapidly detected by 50% of individuals at aqueous concentrations below analytical gas chromatographic detection limits. MMCHC, a minor odorous component (0.935%) of crude MCHM, is also highly volatile and therefore is predicted to contribute to inhalation exposures and odors experienced by consumers.

Keywords: 4-(Methylcyclohexyl)methanol; Exposure; Henry's Law; Ingestion; Inhalation; Odor.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cyclohexanes / analysis*
  • Drinking Water / chemistry*
  • Environmental Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Odorants / analysis*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Skin Care
  • United States
  • United States Environmental Protection Agency
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*


  • Cyclohexanes
  • Drinking Water
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol