By Jonathan Mattise
Health agencies are making thousands of phone calls and going door-to-door to ask West Virginians how a January chemical spill affected them.
The state Bureau for Public Health announced Thursday that volunteers will survey randomly selected households in nine counties about health concerns from the spill. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and West Virginia University are assisting in the effort that includes a short questionnaire.
The initiative will run from Tuesday through Thursday.
Meanwhile, Kanawha County said Friday it will conduct its own phone survey. The local health department will use volunteers to call 6,000 random county phone numbers this weekend and next week. Residents will discuss the health, economic and psychological impacts from the spill in the 20- to 25-minute survey.
University of Charleston and University of California-Irvine researchers are project partners.
Dr. Rahul Gupta, Kanawha County health officer, said the county was denied a $70,000 federal grant, so the survey was scaled down to one county.
Gupta said timing was crucial because people start forgetting daily behaviors 90 days later. Officials plan to release results within 30 days of the survey.
“When we compile the results, we’ll have valuable information about all aspects of the chemical spill, including how it affected people’s confidence and when and how they first became aware of the spill,” Gupta said.
On Jan. 9, a coal-cleaning chemical leaked from a Freedom Industries tank into the Elk River, spurring a tap-water ban for up to 10 days.
More than 530 people went to hospital emergency rooms in the two weeks after the spill with related symptoms, ranging from rashes to nausea. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still hasn’t finished reviewing hospitalization reports to offer the state guidance and analysis.
Gupta has grown frustrated waiting for information to judge the chemical’s long-term effects.
He said the federal health agency should help conduct and fund a long-term health monitoring program, which was cemented into state law this week but remains unfunded.
“If they’re going to do it, they need to announce quickly and help us help them do it,” Gupta said.