CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Crews at West Virginia American Water Company’s Kanawha Valley water treatment plant began replacing the facility’s 16 activated carbon filters Tuesday.
“The plan is to do two a week back-to-back for the next eight weeks to be able to accomplish all 16,” said WVAWC spokesperson Laura Jordan.
Changing the carbon filters was a promise the company made in January after Freedom Industries chemical spill of MCHM contaminated the Elk River, just upstream from the plant’s water intake.
“We, days after the Freedom Industries chemical spill, committed to our customers that would be changing out the activated carbon in our filters as soon as flows allowed us to. It was just to make sure our customers have the confidence and the reassurance that [the filters] aren’t compromised, in any way,” said Jordan.
The carbon helps filter the water that comes through the plant from the Elk River and then out to customers in a nine-county area.
The company opened up the doors to their water treatment facility on Tuesday to allow reporters to watch as the process got underway.
First the water is drained out of a pool. Next a vacuum truck is brought in to suck up 55,000 lbs. of the activated carbon, which is then hauled away to used for other industrial purposes but not recycled for water treatment.
“Later this week it will replaced with virgin carbon and then tested and disinfected before the pool is put back into service,” according to Jordan.
WVAWC wasn’t able to switch out the filters earlier year. Jordan said January and February are their peak usage months. If they had taken a filter off line they might not have been able to keep up with demand.
With water usage now down, Jordan said the utility has the capacity to take two filters out of service each week without problems. The project should wrap up mid-May.
The filters are typically changed on a four-year cycle. Jordan stressed by switching them all out this spring, the goal is to give all customers peace of mind.
“We will be continuing to test (for MCHM) throughout the process. We’ll be continuing to test at the completion of this project and keeping our customers informed all the way,” said Jordan.
Recent testing showed there was still MCHM coming out of the plant. The company said the levels were too low to actually measure.
Charleston Mayor Danny Jones applauded the water company following through on its promise.
“This replacement process is a crucial step toward helping all of us regain trust in the system and the quality of water in this region,” Jones said.