CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Residents of Kanawha County feel local agencies were more trustworthy than any other agency when it came to information and announcements following the January 9 chemical spill in the Elk River.
This is according to preliminary data released from a study conducted by the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, the University of Charleston and other partners.
As part of a 72 question survey, when asked to grade the agencies involved, an “F” was given to WV American Water officials by 38.15 percent of respondents, to federal officials by 36.75 percent, to state officials by 31.12 percent and to local officials by 18.27 percent.
The attempted sample size was 6,000 random Kanawha County residents between April 3 – April 8. The KCHD reports while not all 6,000 residents dialed participated, roughly 500 went through the survey to completion.
Dr. Rahul Gupta, Executive Director of the KCHD said by researching mental health along with physical health, the study is one of the first of it’s kind for an event like the chemical spill and is producing data which would not be possible with previous studies.
“There’s lots of elements to this in those 72 questions there is out no information, so a lot of that information is very interesting information that has come out,” he said.
Other questions asked in the survey included if the respondent felt a member of their household had an illness they felt was related to the chemical spill, if they went to a doctor and, if not, why.
During a press conference on Thursday, Gupta announced the full findings from the study will be presented to the public along with a study on the event conducted at Harvard University’s School of Public Health on Monday.
The original release of the data was supposed to be May 8, so it was important for the KCHD to announce some preliminary data and the date for the full presentation.
“We promised the community that within 30 days of finishing up our project, we will share it with the public,” Gupta said. “We wanted to make sure that everyone who wants to attend has an opportunity to attend.”
The KCHD wanted to make sure a proper, scientific study was conducted for many reasons, both short-term and long-term.
“The first opportunity is for our community to learn of the impact,” Gupta said. “The second thing, of course, will be to share it with the scientific community at-large, nationally and globally, so that when these types of incidents do happen, we have some data and evidence to say ‘Here’s what we should do. Here’s what we shouldn’t do.'”
The study’s team stressed the survey was only conducted in Kanawha County, but believe the results are pertinent to the other counties affected by the spill. The KCHD wanted to expand the scope of the project with the help of grant monies. However, the grants could not be secured.
“We weren’t able to and part of that is because we’re a public health agency, not an academic agency,” Gupta said. “At some point we had to make that decision whether we could do it without funding or not, and that was one of the reasons we had to limit our work to Kanawha County residents.”
Gupta said the project did receive some financial help from the academic partners such as the University of Charleston, community epidemiologists and other community physicians.
The presentation of the full results of the study, as well as the study conducted by Harvard, will be held Monday at 5:00 p.m. on the campus University of Charleston in Riggleman Hall Auditorium. It is open to the public but the KCHD encouraged those interested to register for the event by visiting www.kchdwv.org and submitting their name or calling (304) 348-6494.