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.”