CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and West Virginia American Water Company officials announced Monday the do-not-use water order was being lifted by zones, claiming contamination from last week’s chemical leak has been contained.
The first zone to begin flushing was downtown Charleston east to the 35th Street Bridge. When flushing is finished, customers in that zone can begin to safely use the water again.
Jeff McIntyre, the president of West Virginia American Water Company, said, water-safety testing results showed the amounts of 4-methylcyclohexane methane in the water had diminished to safe levels. McIntyre said only customers in zones green-lighted for flushing should begin the 20-minute process. With more than 200,000 water customers in nine counties emerging from the do-not-use order, the system must be flushed in stages.
State officials say Charleston area hospitals began flushing at 10:15 a.m. Monday.
Portions of Kanawha, Putnam, Boone, Jackson, Clay, Logan, Roane and Cabell counties have been impacted by contamination from Thursday’s chemical leak. People in those areas have been instructed not to consume, bathe or wash laundry with their water for more than three days.
“Things are looking right. They’re trending in the right direction,” Tomblin had said Sunday night.
“I believe that we are at a point where we can say that we see light at the end of tunnel.”
Water quality was potentially compromised Thursday when a leak of 4-methylcyclohexane methane was discovered at Freedom Industries along the Elk River in Charleston.
As water-safety testing continued, schools were scheduled to remain closed Monday in Kanawha County, Putnam County, Boone County and Lincoln County. Culloden Elementary in Cabell County and H.E. White Elementary in Clay County were also closed.
Dr. James Phares, state superintendent of schools, said the goal was to re-open most schools by Tuesday, but that would depend on testing results. He said school workers in affected areas would spend Monday cleaning school lines, systems and appliances.
A do-not-use water order has been in effect since 5 p.m. Thursday when tests confirmed the chemical was in the water at the Kanawha Valley water treatment plant. At that time, WVAW said the order was out of an “abundance of caution” because it was not immediately clear what severity the chemical, even in a diluted form, could have on health.
By Sunday night, about 72 hours later, state officials said the results of water quality tests were allowing them to move to the next phase of restoration.
“Over the past 24 hours, sampling and testing has provided confirmation that….we have, at the water treatment facility, a consistent number of one ppm (parts per million),” said state Adjutant General James Hoyer.
National Guard Col. Greg Grant confirmed zero ppm of the chemical was detected at the plant’s intake and zero ppm was detected at the plant’s outtake for a period covering 24 hours.
The next phase of the restoration process will involve water testing in WVAW’s individual water zones, starting at the treatment facility, and spreading throughout the entire system.
“Continuous operations are going to go on as long as necessary to ensure that we get all the samples, throughout the zones and the districts, taken care of,” said Grant. He said 16 teams were working 24 hours a day to collect water samples to send to 10 labs throughout West Virginia.
McIntyre said once test results indicated the presence of the chemical in the water in individual areas was below the acceptable level of one ppm, the do-not-use order would be lifted by zones.
“Those zones are prioritized. They’re done by pressure zones so they will overlap zip codes. They will overlap county lines. They’ll overlap system lines, because they’re based on our system’s pressure zones,” McIntyre said.
Customers in zones receiving the green light must go through a protocol the company had not yet issued as of Sunday night. The protocol, McIntyre said, would serve as instructions for flushing home plumbing systems.
“We can’t have all the customers doing this protocol all at the same time or it could hinder our recovery efforts,” said McIntyre.
When it begins, he said the process would start with four zones in the immediate Charleston area involving an estimated 25,000 homes and businesses, including four major hospitals, that use 60 percent of the water from the affected plant.
Those first four zones cover an area in downtown Charleston, from the plant along the Elk River, to the 35th Street Bridge, Kanawha City, South Charleston and the West Side and North Charleston communities.
McIntyre would not provide an estimated timeline for the launch of green-lighting process. “I don’t believe we’re several days from starting to lift, but I’m not saying today,” he said.
WVAW customers will be able to check the status of their properties—whether they’re in green zones and allowed to start flushing their water, or in red zones and still under the do-not-use water order—through a website mapping system that had not yet launched Sunday night.
According to WVAW, automated phone messages would also go out by zones and a 24/7 hotline would be available for inquiries about the zone opening schedule.
All state offices were scheduled to open on regular schedules Monday.
Karen Bowling, the secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Resources, said 10 people have been admitted to hospitals for treatment while 169 others were treated and released at emergency rooms.
Federal Emergency Management Agency officials said the agency had delivered more than 2 million liters of water to Charleston from its Maryland distribution centers in Cumberland and Frederick.