CHARLESTON, W.Va. — As water-safety testing continued Sunday, about 300,000 West Virginians suffered through their fourth day without potable water after a chemical leak contaminated the West Virginia American Water Company lines.
Officials tested to determine if it’s safe to lift the do-not-use order that has been in place since Thursday night. WVAWC says the ongoing testing and flushing of 100 storage tanks and 1,700 miles of lines may cause customers to experience no water or low water for a short period of time.
The state has hired an outside firm that is conducting 100 water quality tests. The testing Saturday showed that the levels of Crude MCHM that leaked from a Freedom Industries storage tank into the Elk River near the WVAWC intake valve have continued to drop.
“Now we’re down below one-part-per-million, but we need to consistently be below one-part-per-million for a 24-hour period,” West Virginia National Guard Col. Greg Grant said at Saturday night’s briefing. Another briefing is scheduled for later Sunday.
Company and state officials continued to advise residents not to use the water.
“The interagency that includes West Virginia American Water, the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues sampling,” offcials said in a statement Sunday, reiterating the do-not-use order is still in effect. “Bottled and bulk water supplies are still being delivered and available at designated locations.”
Meanwhile, state officials say 1,260 people have called the poison center with questions and concerns about exposure to chemical, which is not considered toxic or hazardous. Some142 patients have been treated and released at 10 hospitals, while six people have been admitted for symptoms that could be related to the spill.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said the outside testing lab should quickly turn around 100 tests Sunday now that the method has been developed.
“It is a very complicated issue. We had to basically start from ground zero in setting the protocols on how to do the testing to make sure the water was safe,” Tomblin said. “Now that those are in place, the testing is being done and we are trending in the right way. I think it’s a very positive sign for us.”
Once the all-clear is given, WVAWC will instruct customers on how to begin flushing the water from their homes. That will include turning on spigots and running the hot and cold water for several minutes. The company will offer a 1,000-gallon credit to its residential customers to cover the process.
WVAWC President Jeff McIntyre urged customers Saturday night not to begin the flushing process until word comes from the company.
“It’s wasted effort without the all-clear,” he said.
Earlier Saturday, McIntyre said even when the acceptable level is reached the process of lifting the order could be lengthy.
“Flushing beginning at the center location and moving out to the far ends of the distribution system is expected to take several days but will not be simultaneous based upon the construction of the system,” McIntyre said. “The timeline may vary on geographic location, customer demand and other factors that impact water usage and availability.”
There are more than 100 water storage tanks in the system and more than 1,700 miles of storage pipeline in the nine counties.
“We have employees that have worked this system that are extremely knowledgeable. They are out checking samples and looking at flushing activities at this time, but we are talking days,” he said.
Other information released during the two briefings Saturday included:
–Homeland Security Director Jimmy Gianato said no decisions have been made about school on Monday. Tomblin said it’s possible only parts of counties would have schools closed because some communities are covered by other water systems.
–DEP Secretary Randy Huffman said the formation of Freedom Industries would be looked at as part of investigation.
–Gov. Tomblin said there could be some bills this legislative session dealing with above ground storage facilities “to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
–McIntyre said “he fully expects” the do-not-use order will be lifted in zones. He wouldn’t speculate on what that would look like.
–Freedom Industries, where the leak occurred, has now said it believes 7,500 gallons of the chemical leaked. The maximum amount was earlier thought to be 5,000 gallons.
–Freedom is now communicating better with the state.
–Gianato said 1.4 million liters of water had been delivered to the impacted counties by FEMA as of Saturday. More was scheduled to be delivered Sunday and Monday.
–Several restaurants in Kanawha County reopened Saturday and Sunday after bringing separate water sources on site and having a plan approved by the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department.