The Times West Virginian

February 7, 2014

Schools closed due to water concerns

Because of a smell resembling that of last month’s chemical spill

By Jonathan Mattise and Sarah Plummer
Associated Press

CHARLESTON — For the second-straight day, multiple West Virginia schools sent students home because of a smell resembling that of a chemical spill that tainted the water of 300,000 people for days.

The licorice odor has prompted five schools to close since Wednesday in Kanawha County, the site of a Jan. 9 spill. After additional water pipe flushing and testing, all five schools will reopen Friday.

The scent is persisting weeks after officials said the nine affected counties were clear to drink or otherwise use their tap water. Federal health officials even said Thursday that pregnant women could drink it, backtracking on a previous advisory.

Watts, J.E. Robins, and Overbrook elementary schools dismissed classes early Thursday.

At Riverside High and Midland Trail Elementary schools Wednesday, students and teachers felt light-headed and had itchy eyes and noses from the smell. One teacher fainted and a student went to the hospital. The schools closed in the morning and didn’t reopen Thursday.

Follow-up tests at Riverside and Midland Trail didn’t detect the chemical in their running water. But several rounds of earlier tests also didn’t detect the chemical at the two schools.

Elsewhere, a U.S. House committee has announced who will testify Monday during a Charleston hearing on West Virginia’s chemical spill. The 9 a.m. meeting will take place at the Kanawha County Courthouse. The witness list includes the president of West Virginia American Water, state health, homeland security and environmental officials, the chairman of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board and county emergency and homeland security officials.

Freedom Industries President Gary Southern has been invited. He isn’t expected to attend, said committee spokesman Justin Harclerode.

Two West Virginia members sit on the committee: Nick Rahall, the committee’s top Democrat, and Republican Shelley Moore Capito.

A U.S. Senate committee took testimony about the chemical spill in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.

The water company affected by the spill also will start providing $10 to residents and $20 to businesses in one-time relief on their water bills Friday. West Virginia American Water President Jeff McIntyre announced the start of the credits during a state House of Delegates meeting Thursday.

The credits account for the cost of running water to flush chemicals out of pipes, and added costs for businesses, such as restaurants, to comply with required cleaning.