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Dr. Andrew Whelton and Governor Earl Ray Tomblin detail the WV TAP home water testing program to assess the water contamination

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The leader of an independent team hired to study West Virginia’s water emergency says the state is dealing with a “scale of contamination that is unprecedented.”

Dr. Andrew Whelton, a water expert from the University of South Alabama, will lead a team that’s conducting a home testing program.

The West Virginia Testing Assessment Project or “WV TAP” will test water in homes within the nine-county region affected by the spill of 10,000 gallons of MCHM from Freedom Industries last month. The project aims to determine water safety and help ease fears about the health effects of the chemical.

Although test levels continue to show contamination levels below the safety standard set by the Centers for Disease Control, the impact continues. The long-term health effects of the chemical are unknown, the licorice smell associated with the chemical has not complete disappeared, and the public has lost confidence in the water’s safety.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin—in announcing the selection of Whelton, who is working with the firm Corona Environmental Consulting— said he wanted independent scientists to conduct the testing.

“I have committed $650,000 from my budget,” Tomblin said. “It is time to let the political officials step aside and let the scientists come in and do the work that we need them to do.”

Tomblin said he hoped testing would help residents regain confidence in the water supply.

Whelton said the testing has started with 10 homes and will expand to as many as 100. It will consist of three parts:

1. In-home testing of tap water.

2. An analysis to determine the odor threshold for MCHM.

3. Establishing an independent expert panel to further evaluate the risks of MCHM.

“The scale of this contamination is unprecedented. The people affected by this need our help,” said Whelton, adding that the first test results should be known within several weeks.