CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Pregnant women in parts of the nine West Virginia counties where a do-not-use water order from West Virginia American Water Company was in effect for days are being told not to drink the tap water, even after the order is lifted.

The state Bureau of Public Health issued the new recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control on Wednesday night, three days after the first water customers were cleared to resume regular water usage following a leak of crude MCHM on Jan. 9 that contaminated the water supply.

The CDC said pregnant women should drink bottled water until MCHM is no longer detectable in the water distribution system served by the Kanawha Valley Water Treatment Plant.

Letitia Tierney, commissioner of the Bureau of Public Health, said pregnant women are already instructed to take several extra precautions.

“We ask them not to drink caffeine. We ask them not to drink alcohol. We ask them not to smoke, so we’re just asking them, at this time, to continue to use bottled water or another source of water to drink,” said Tierney.

Dr. Stephen Bush, chairman of obstetrics and gynecology for West Virginia University Physicians of Charleston, said many pregnant women have already been doing so. “We’ve been really telling our patients anyway, from the start, to air on the conservative side and continue to drink the bottled water until everything was completely cleared,” said Bush.

(The state is providing more information for pregnant women impacted by water emergency.)

For everyone else, the CDC maintains the presence of MCHM in the water is safe for human consumption below a threshold of one part per million. WVAW officials said water zones were being cleared for flushing and the resumption of service only after series of tests showed levels consistently below that level.

A week after the Elk River leak, officials said there were still many unanswered questions, though, about the long-term effects of MCHM on humans, even in small amounts.

“As you know, there are few studies on this specialized chemical.  Like many studies done for medical, chemical safety and consumer applications, the only available studies looked at the effects of exposure of animals,” wrote Dr. Thomas Frieden, CDC director, in a letter to Karen Bowling, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Resources, this week.

“Therefore, scientists used the available information about 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol, MCHM, to calculate how much MCHM a person could likely ingest without resulting in adverse health effects. These calculations use safety factors to take into account the differences between animals and people, and to consider possible effects on special populations.”

Frieden continued, “An additional safety factor was applied to account for the limited availability of data. Based on these safety factors and the available research students, scientists recommended a screening level of one part per million (one ppm) of MCHM in drinking water.”

Epidemiologists with the CDC were scheduled to arrive in Charleston on Thursday.

Tierney, a doctor who lives in the affected region, said she is trusting the CDC numbers and the results of testing from WVAW, the National Guard and others.

“I’m now taking showers in this water. I am drinking this water. I am bathing in this water, so is my family,” she said on MetroNews “Talkline” on Thursday morning. “I understand the concern.”

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  • Pure Water Warrior

    The Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA), and the American Red Cross published a document titled “Food and Water in an Emergency“; it recommends only three ways to purify water during an emergency – boiling, chemical disinfection and distillation.

    In fact, the CDC published a document titled “Drinking Water Treatment Technologies for Household Use“, and found distillation systems to be one of the most effective methods of drinking water treatment.

    Steam distillation is the only purification method that will consistently provide 99.9% pure water.

  • Jasper

    Hmmm.. what about those women who do not know they are pregnant yet? They will unknowingly drink the water. But there again... didn't we all by believing that the water was already safe prior to the spill! We all believed that the regulations were in place for our protection!

  • Jenny Olsen

    It's err on the side of caution

  • Larry

    Hopefully no one who smokes is saying they won't drink the water, you lose that right.

    • Benthere

      I do not use tobacco.

  • Some Things Never Change

    The warning should be applicable to everyone. There are no experts on this chemical that can provide enough information to guarantee that the water is 100% "safe". Those that live, work and play in Chemical Valley are gambling with their lives.

  • garbage water

    Ok, so they say pregnant women should not drink the water. What about the rest of the population? If it's not safe or advisable for pregnant women, then it is not safe for anyone. The clowns in charge have no idea, no standards, and no protocols, about the "acceptable" level of this chemical in our water supply. People are getting sick. No one knows the long terms effects. You would be a fool to trust this water supply.

  • Be there

    West Virginia American Water will be found negligent in the end. They thought the carbon beds would remove the chemicals. They must have ignored their Total Carbon Analyzers on the influent water...or they do not have them in place? The focus of the company was bacterial and they seem to not understand chemical contamination. Which unbelievable to me..but if they needed help on a GC mass spec. This proves the point.