Sorption and desorption of the industrial chemical MCHM into polymer pipes, liners and activated carbon
Polyethylene pipes and epoxy or polyurethane linings are increasingly used in drinking water infrastructure. As a recent introduction to the water industry, there are still many unknowns about how polymers will behave in the distribution system specifically relating to sorption and desorption of chemical contaminants. This study is in response to a spill of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM) that occurred in January 2014 contaminating the drinking water of nine counties in West Virginia. This study investigated sorption and desorption of the odorous chemical MCHM into polymer drinking water infrastructure and granular activated carbon (GAC). Experiments for sorption of non-polar toluene and polar 1-butanol were conducted as a comparison for MCHM sorption. Additionally, a brief odor analysis was done on the ability of activated carbon to remove odor from contaminated water and on leaching of MCHM from pipe material into clean water. The results show that MCHM diffusion and solubility in polyethylene pipe materials is low. Solubility in polyethylene ranged from 0.003-0.008 g/cm3 and was more similar to the polar contaminant n-butanol than the non-polar contaminant toluene. Desorption experiments indicated that MCHM sorbed to polyethylene diffused back into water at levels that produced odor. MCHM diffused very quickly into epoxy; its solubility was similar to polyethylene pipe. MCHM caused the polyurethane lining to swell and deform. Granular activated carbon effectively sorbed MCHM to below its odor threshold. The sorption properties of MCHM indicate the potential for contamination of infrastructure and the desorption indicates subsequent recontamination of drinking water.