CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Those with the outside group West Virginia officials hired to study the tap water in parts of nine counties following the Jan. 9 Freedom Industries leak on the Elk River will present their research findings in Kanawha County on Friday.
The independent team with the West Virginia Testing Assessment Project, WV-TAP, will detail the data collected thus far, including new laboratory testing results, during a public meeting at West Virginia State University’s Ferrell Hall in Institute. It begins at 9:30 a.m. and is expected to run through 3 p.m.
“We conducted testing for PPH. We conducted testing for MCHM. We also looked for other chemicals that we believe neither the state nor the federal government looked for and we did find some information. None of the information we found, however, raised serious concerns for us,” said Dr. Andrew Whelton, an assistant professor at the University of South Alabama, who is leading the WV-TAP project.
“If we had found some really glaringly concerning information, we would have went directly to the government and asked them to do something about it.”
On Thursday’s MetroNews “Talkline,” Whelton said he was confident researchers would be able to answer many of the public’s questions about the quality of their tap water. He has been working with Jeffrey Rosen, president of Corona Environmental Consulting, along with two other senior scientists.
In February, water testing was conducted in ten homes in the affected region.
“We want to answer the people’s concerns. We designed the WV-TAP program based on what the people were asking and so we prioritized those questions and some of those questions are going to be answered. Certainly, not everybody’s question is going to be answered,” he said.
When the WV-TAP project first launched in February, Whelton said there were three objectives:
1. Conduct a focused residential drinking water sampling field study to collect data that would be used to support the design of a larger more comprehensive program for the nine affected counties.
2. Determine the drinking water odor threshold for MCHM because, Whelton said, it’s possible people can detect MCHM odors at concentrations less than sensitive laboratory instruments can detect.
3. Convene an international panel of experts to examine the West Virginia safety factor applied to their 10 part per billion (ppb) MCHM drinking water screening level.
That final objective will be addressed next week. On Tuesday, the experts on WV-TAP’s Health Effects Panel are scheduled to release their report focused on at what levels the chemicals involved are safe in drinking water.
It’s the main question some state officials have struggled to answer during the past more than two months, since the mixture of crude MCHM and PPH leaked into the Elk River — the water source for West Virginia American Water Company’s Kanawha Valley Water Treatment Facility which provides water to 300,000 West Virginians.
In the days after the leak, officials with the Centers for Disease Control said MCHM in tap water is safe for use at levels below one part per million, but a lot of unknowns were part of that determination since the effects of MCHM have not been studied in humans up to now.