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Bottled water costs add up for state; many still not convinced tap water is safe

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Governor Earl Ray Tomblin says the state has spent more than $900,000 — so far — on supplies of bottled water and its distribution in the parts of nine West Virginia counties where a Jan. 9 leak of two chemicals contaminated the tap water for 300,000 state residents.

Up to now, Tomblin said that cost has been covered through his office’s contingency fund, but he said there are not unlimited dollars available.  That’s why, he said, it may be necessary to dip into the Rainy Day Fund.

“That’s obviously an option that we have to look at as a place to get the money to pay for the water as well as the distribution of the water out there,” Tomblin said on Friday’s MetroNews “Talkline” as public water distributions resumed in parts of the affected region.

Since the start of the water emergency on Jan. 9, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has provided 423 tractor trailer loads of bottled water to West Virginia.  The bottled water that was being distributed on Friday had been moved from areas of low demand to areas of high demand.

West Virginia American Water Company was also securing 20 additional tractor trailer loads of bottled water for distribution, bringing the company’s total bottled water contribution during the water emergency to 33 truckloads at an estimated cost of $132,000.

At the same time, the company agreed to again move tankers of water, filled in other areas, to specified locations for the weekend.

There were no indications of how long the water distributions would continue.

The demand for bottled and tank water continues because of ongoing questions, among residents, about the quality of the tap water more than three weeks after crude MCHM and PPH leaked from a storage tank belonging to Freedom Industries into the Elk River, the water source for the Kanawha Valley Water Treatment Plant.

Dr. Letitia Tierney, state Bureau of Health commissioner, said, throughout the water emergency, state officials have been making safety determinations about the water based on the best data available, even though she admitted there is little information about the effects of long-term exposure to MCHM on humans.

“We wish there was as much scientific research on this chemical as there are on other chemicals,” she said.  “But what we have done and continue to do is to look at the best available evidence and make the best decision we can.”

Water testing continued on Friday and Tomblin said WVAW, assisted by the West Virginia National Guard, was close to announcing levels of crude MCHM were at non-detectable levels or well below a ten parts per billion threshold, considered an extra-cautious threshold, throughout the extensive system.

“If you think of a milk tanker that you see on the highway that holds 76,000 gallons of milk, ten parts per billion would be six drops,” explained Dr. Tierney.  (Tierney later clarified she meant 7,500 gallons, not 76,000 gallons.)

Despite that, the question for thousands of West Virginians remains — is the water safe?

“Can we guarantee, 100 percent, that every gallon of milk or every box of food that’s bought is 100 percent safe?  Or that a person will not be run over by a bus today?  No, we can’t,” said Tomblin.  “But what we’re doing is using the best information from scientists and professionals that we have available to us to put out to the public.”

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