CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The chairman of a congressional committee conducting a field hearing at the Kanawha County Courthouse in Charleston Monday on the past month’s water emergency said it was frustrating that no one would say the water is safe.
Congressman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., said the lack of commitment from those testifying probably had something to do with the many lawsuits already filed in connection with the Jan. 9 leak of MCHM at the Freedom Industries site just up the Elk River from the West Virginia American Water Company Kanawha Valley Plant. The leak touched off a nine-county water emergency.
U.S. Chemical Safety Board Chairman Dr. Rafael Moure-Eraso said there’s just hasn’t been enough scientific of MCHM to allow the ‘safe’ answer.
“If you are going to give a scientific answer to this you have to have scientific data on which you can base your statement of safety,” Moure-Eraso said.
West Virginia Second District Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito asked both WVAWC President Jeff McIntyre and state Bureau of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Tierney about the safety of the water. Tierney said there’s not an easy answer.
“That’s in a way a difficult thing to say because everybody has a different definition of safe,” Teirney said. She added she believes the water can be used as normal because the levels set by the Centers for Disease Control and the more stringent testing level by the governor’s office have both been met through the system that covers parts of nine West Virginia counties.
McIntyre said there’s always something in the water but that doesn’t mean it isn’t safe.
“We monitor for mercury, we monitor for arsenic, we monitor for pesticides and if anyone thinks that every water treatment system has absolutely zero of all of these chemicals and compounds they are mistaken,” McIntyre said. “There are limits set and as a water purveyor we work within those limits.”
Congresswoman Capito, Congressman Nick Rahall and U.S. Senator Joe Manchin all criticized Freedom Industries for not appearing at Monday’s hearing. Capito called it was “very telling.” Manchin said Freedom has “no credibility.”
Other information to come out of Monday’s hearing included:
–U.S. Chemical Safety Board lead investigator Johnnie Banks said two holes were found in the Freedom tank. He said one was 19-cm and the other 10-cm.
–Dr. Tierney said the state was in shock when it heard from the CDC several days after the emergency began that pregnant women should not drink the water. Tierney said she had originally been told by the agency it would be otherwise once the safe levels were met.
–State DEP official Mike Dorsey said it’s possible another pool of MCHM might be underneath the tank that leaked. He hopes to get clearance to have the tank removed later this week.
–State Homeland Security Director Jimmy Gianato said all schools had tested at the Non-Detect level. He said most odor problems had come from dishwasher machines at the schools. “When the water is heated up the odor seems to be greater at that point. That’s the only thing that’s been seen as a potential cause,” Gianato said.
–Chairman Shuster took the unusual step of allowing members of the general public to ask questions at the end of the hearing. Seven residents were given two minutes each.