CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Three months after the Jan. 9 Freedom Industries chemical spill on the Elk River, officials with the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department are leading an effort to learn the lessons of the spill that contaminated the tap water for 300,000 West Virginians.
On Tuesday night, the Board of Health’s phone survey of more than 450 residents about the chemical spill ended. Officials will now review the results of the extensive scientific survey, which included 70 questions, before releasing a report to the community next month.
“The most important part that has not been studied to the level we feel it should have been is the human and economic impact upon individuals and households and families,” said Dr. Rahul Gupta, chief health officer for the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department.
Gupta said the survey looked at the physical, psychological and social impacts of the spill, the costs associated with the spill – including water purchases, work days lost and additional child care expenses due to school closures – and the communications during the water emergency from federal, state and local officials.
“This research needs to happen so we can share it with the community at large and try to explain how this event unfolded. It also needs to be in the broader scientific community,” Dr. Gupta said. “We don’t wish this event on anybody else, but if it was to happen, (we’d be) providing them the tools in how to better respond to such an event.”
Though not part of the scientific study, residents who were not contacted during the phone survey can answer the questions posed to respondents, on their own, by going to the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department’s website at www.kchdwv.org.
Gupta said those responses would be included in the larger information gathering process. “As a community, as a science-based organization, public health, as well as policy makers, I think it’s critical to learn the lessons from this event,” he said.
On Tuesday, the Kanawha-Charleston Board of Health voted to join the City of Charleston in any legal action connected to the Jan. 9 chemical spill and resulting water emergency.
Board members estimated the health department spent about $200,000 because of the leak at Freedom Industries and will be seeking reimbursement.