CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia American Water Company President Jeff McIntyre cannot predict when the smell of the chemical MCHM will be completely gone from the tap water in parts of nine West Virginia counties.

McIntyre said water throughout WVAW’s system continues to test well below the suggested “safe” health level from the Centers for Disease Control, one part per million, even though it still stinks of licorice, when running out of faucets, in many areas.

“We can smell it in certain areas where it’s non-detectable (in water quality tests), so I can’t predict when we won’t smell it, but it will get there,” said McIntyre.

The last do-not-use water order from WVAW was lifted on Friday, a week and a day after it was first issued following a Jan. 9 leak of the coal processing chemical from Freedom Industries into the Elk River in Charleston which is the source water for the Kanawha Valley Water Treatment Plant.

Since all customer zones were cleared, McIntyre said flushing work has resumed at that plant and will move out from there in an attempt to completely push the chemical from the water distribution system that services more than 300,000 West Virginians.

“It’s an aesthetic issue now, it’s an odor issue,” he said.  The testing threshold for this second round of pipe flushing, McIntyre said, has been reduced to parts per billion.  “It’s working its way out from the center, so we have some zones that are coming up with good non-detect readings.”

However, McIntyre said, over-flushing in individual homes and businesses will not help the process.

“Any advice to flush until you get rid of the smell could actually harm the system,” he cautioned.  “We need to flush the mains and the trunk lines and the distribution lines that go through the community that lead to people’s homes and the normal use will then move that water through their house.”

McIntyre said he is drinking the water, despite the smell, but he admitted he cannot force anyone else to do so.

“That’s a personal choice,” he said on Monday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”  “But I can tell you I am confident in our water supply meeting all the requirements and our advice is that you can drink the water.”

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  • Ed Wouldn't

    If it still has an odor that means there's still chemical in the water, a chemical about which not much is known yet the CDC can establish a "safe" level.

    Define safe. The one I'm hearing doesn't make me feel comfortable, thanks, and I trust my instincts more than I trust those involved who, let's face it, have an agenda all their own that being staying in business while making sure their investors don't take a huge hit. WVAmWater is a private for profit company, they're balancing product quality vs profit at this point.

    I wonder what rate increase they'll be seeking in the near future to cover expenses and lost revenue. No doubt customers will be paying more for their tainted water.

    It's going to be a long, long time before things return to normal, if they ever even do.

  • Gen Kemp

    I don't really think that it's a "personal choice" when the chemicals still exist in the water...

    The "safe" level reported by the CDC of 1PPM is not based on a study of long-term effects of small doses - it is based on what they know to be a lethal dose, and then they just guesstimated from there. So, they really don't know what a safe level is! Also, MCMH is just one several chemicals that leaked out of that tank, but nothing has been said about those "other" chemicals! They haven't even identified what they are and have not even tried to test for them!! How on earth can they deem this water safe to drink!!!

    • Serenity Firefly

      Agree that safe level is not clearly defined for the one chemical that is apparently being tested. For example: "Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that levels of MCHM below 50 parts per billion did not pose a public health concern."

      Note the quote above refers to parts per BILLION, yet tests determining water safety in WV are only testing with a sensitivity of parts per MILLION.

      The quote is from a news link at the Louisville, KY water page:

  • Serenity Firefly

    So . . . "[i]t's an aesthetic issue now, it's an odor issue." There isn't any chemical in the water. It's only the *smell* of a chemical?

    Not using this stuff until you clear the stink out of it. I flushed the house. It didn't work. All it did was drag stinkier water into my home plumbing. Should never have done it.

    YOU clean it up. I've tried for a week. I am tired of feeling hopeless. The longer you keep pumping stinking chemicals out to our homes, the more damage you are doing to us.

    Open hydrants, drain tanks, do whatever it takes. It is up to YOU to fix this, WVAWC.

    Somebody needs to develop a home test kit for this garbage, so we can check the results in our own locations.

  • Unconvinced

    Personally, I think someone should have opened up the hydrants and given the water system a good flushing, not run that chemical through people's homes. (I can understand the difference between sending flush water directly into storm sewers to the rivers vs. sending it to a waste treatment plant, so I presume that's why you ran the flushing through people's homes.) But I applaud Boone County and I cheered to see that hydrant spewing water. That would have the most expedient way to flush it of the lines.

    There may be no or inadequate data for what effects crude MCMH has on people and animals. But I bet there also are no data on its permeation rate through the various plastics that are in use for water lines and for pipes in dwellings and other buildings. And you guys left it sit in water lines and water pipes for what, a week, in some cases. I am not surprised if odors remain a long, long time, like perhaps until piping gets removed and replaced.

    For a big-city water company with as large of a geographic area, you sure did handle this like a bunch of small town rubes. Is MCMH still seeping into Elk River? When are you going to replace your purification materials? How many years have you operated in Kanawha Valley, where chemical plants and storage tanks on the banks of rivers have been a fact of life since literally the 1920s? And you were not prepared for this, and probably not prepared for any other release, either. Imo, the performance of WV American Water was abysmal. You needed to call in the experts ASAP, not try muddle through the way you did.

    If your company gets sued into oblivion, you certainly asked for it.

    • Serenity Firefly

      You are so right. The smell did not reach my tap until the day my area was cleared to resume use. If the flushing had been done from their system, this stink would never have entered my home, my pipes.

      This is a disaster. Their efforts to make consumers responsible for cleaning out their system has brought this contamination far more deeply into our homes.

  • Josh

    I will never drink water the from the tap again.

  • Harpers Ferry

    Let's see this guy chug a glass of it then and put his money where his mouth is.

    • Charleston

      He did make a statement that he has been consuming the water from tap during the interview. (Note: I am not stating this in defense for anyone to drink the water, rather just stating a fact).

  • Beckie

    If the smell is put in there as they say to alert us that the chemical is present AND the smell is still there.....obviously the CHEMICAL is STILL THERE. I don't believe for a minute that this President of WVAW is drinking this water. NOONE I have asked is drinking this water.....NOONE. What a nightmare. I will probably never drink this water again.