The Times West Virginian

West Virginia

February 12, 2014

W.Va. to test water in homes after chem spill

CHARLESTON — An independent, taxpayer-funded research team will immediately start testing 10 homes for the chemicals that spilled into the water supply of 300,000 West Virginians.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced the project Tuesday, weeks after his administration and federal officials declared the water usable for all purposes, aside from one advisory for pregnant women to find water elsewhere. Residents, however, continue to question whether their tap water is safe and many are sticking to bottled water for cooking and drinking.

After learning more about the little-known chemicals in those 10 residences, research leader Dr. Andrew Whelton, from the University of South Alabama, plans to sample West Virginia homes “up in the thousands.” The price tag could end up in the millions of dollars and depend largely on federal assistance.

The initial study, covered by $650,000 from the state, could start Wednesday and take three weeks. At least one household in each of the nine counties affected will be tested. The group could produce some preliminary findings next week.

State and federal officials previously showed little interest in going into people’s homes. Calling it an unprecedented study, Tomblin on Tuesday said people clearly want their households tested.

“There is little to no information pertaining to the fate of these materials once they get inside your house,” Whelton said. “What we’re going to do is determine the chemical levels at the tap. And that will be a study, the first of its kind in the U.S., on this scale, ever conducted.”

With a National Science Foundation grant, Whelton arrived in Charleston three weeks ago to study the chemical’s reaction in plastic plumbing pipes. Those results are pending.

Whelton’s independent work for the state will likewise study how the chemicals, crude MCHM and stripped PPH, bond with or permeate pipes. It will test taps throughout the homes by running both hot and cold water.

Experts will also examine the baseline created before officials lifted a water-use ban, which lasted up to 10 days for residents and businesses. After the Jan. 9 spill, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quickly created the baseline to determine how much of the chemical people could safely ingest in water. But federal officials based the standard on older animal research.

Last week, CDC officials came to Charleston to reinforce that the water was suitable for everyone and every use. CDC official Dr. Tanja Popovic specifically mentioned pregnant women, a group her agency earlier advised to consider other water sources days after the water-ban was partially lifted.

Whelton said the federal government needs to begin fueling more toxicology research as soon as possible.

“This incident demonstrated what happens when you don’t know really anything about the chemical,” he said.

The new study also seeks to figure out the odor threshold for the licorice-smelling chemical. State and federal decision makers have said the licorice smell lingers well below safe levels for drinking the water or inhaling its fumes.

But five schools temporarily closed last week because the smell was present. A teacher fainted and a student went to the hospital. Whelton said he also became dizzy while working around the chemical in someone’s house three weeks ago.

Jeffrey Rosen of Corona Environmental Consulting will partner with Whelton to lead research efforts. State laboratories will not be used, to keep the studies as independent as possible. The research team is using local nonprofits to find 10 homes whose residents want their water tested.

“It is time to let the political officials step aside and let the scientists come in and do the work we need them to do,” Tomblin said.

So far, officials have tested at the water treatment plant, schools and various other spots across the affected region.

Tomblin already is asking West Virginia’s federal lawmakers to start asking for funding help.  

Tomblin said West Virginia American Water President Jeff McIntyre has offered to help pay for some of the studies. But the state hasn’t asked for the water company’s help.


Text Only
West Virginia
  • Symptoms match with spilled chemical

    For two weeks following a January chemical spill into the public water supply, hundreds of West Virginians examined in emergency rooms had ailments consistent with exposure to the chemical, health officials said Wednesday.
    Federal toxic substance experts and the state Bureau for Public Health stopped short of saying that their analysis determined without a doubt that patients’ problems stemmed from chemical contact.

    April 24, 2014

  • West Virginia chemical safe level following spill based on two weeks

    When federal officials decided what chemical levels West Virginians could safely consume in water tainted by a January spill, their standard assumed people would be exposed for two weeks, not 100-plus days.

    April 23, 2014

  • Some state Democrats flip to GOP

    As Republicans rally for more control in West Virginia’s long-time Democratic Legislature, a few Democrats have jumped ship to the GOP and are challenging former colleagues in midterm races.
    Republicans face their biggest election opportunity in decades in the House of Delegates, where a four-seat swing would put them in power for the first time in 85 years.

    April 20, 2014

  • Gee’s move could save Ohio State millions

    Ohio State University expects to save millions of dollars because former president Gordon Gee is giving up part of his retirement package as he becomes president of West Virginia University for the second time.

    April 19, 2014

  • W.Va. AG court filings: Dismiss gun law question

    The attorney general says a court challenge should be dismissed over whether West Virginians can bring guns to city recreational facilities that hold school events.
    Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s filings Thursday argue the city of Charleston shouldn’t receive court guidance on how to implement a state gun law.

    April 18, 2014

  • Energy-state Dems split from Obama

    Scrapping to keep a West Virginia Senate seat Democratic in a state that’s sprinted to the right, Natalie Tennant is counting on her allegiance to the coal industry to separate herself from an unpopular President Barack Obama.
    Her approach reflects common Democratic strategy and tactics this midterm election year in energy-producing states that lean Republican: Sen. Mary Landrieu is vying for a fourth term representing Louisiana; Alaska Sen. Mark Begich is running for re-election for the first time; and Kentucky Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes wants to replace Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

    April 17, 2014

  • Official: $2M in chemical spill costs reimbursable

    Public agencies and nonprofits that helped after a Jan. 9 chemical leak into the water supply could receive $2 million in reimbursements for their emergency work, a West Virginia homeland security official said.
    Federal and state emergency officials briefed fire departments, paramedics and other government groups Wednesday on how to recoup costs.

    April 17, 2014

  • Manchin urges mines to speak out for coal

    The Democratic senator leading the battle against the White House’s strategy to fight climate change urged the mining industry on Tuesday to speak out about coal’s role in providing affordable, reliable electricity to the country to help combat strict new emissions rules for coal-fired power plants.

    April 16, 2014

  • Many schools already meet new mandate for breakfast

    Many West Virginia public schools have changed the way they serve breakfast to students ahead of a requirement that goes into effect in September.

    April 14, 2014

  • W.Va. grower promotes unmodified feed corn

    Lyle Tabb is hoping that his non-genetically modified corn will take off with farmers who can charge top dollar for “all natural” eggs.
    Genetically modified or GMO corn has greatly simplified the process of getting rid of weeds, but has also substantially increased the amount of a chemical call glyphosate.

    April 13, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads