Governor to look at home testing in water emergency

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced Wednesday evening he’s directed his administration to evaluate the options of doing a sampling of home testing in the water emergency counties.

Tomblin’s announcement came following a news conference at the state capitol where he appeared with officials from the Centers for Disease Control and federal EPA concerning what’s been done since the water emergency began Jan. 9.

The governor said after the briefing he was willing to have a sample of homes tested. He said he’s heard from many residents who can still smell MCHM in their systems even though distribution lines show Non-Detect levels of the chemical.

“There’s not a hesitancy to do it but there’s a cost to it,” Tomblin said. “Trying to test 100-thousand customers could be in the tens of millions of dollars. But I would not be adverse to going in with permission and looking at a few sample spots in some of the zones around.”

House of Delegates Speaker Tim Miley and House Minority Tim Armstead sent a letter to the governor Wednesday asking for the in-home sampling and called on West Virginia American Water pay for it.

(Read Miley-Armstead letter here)

Tomblin’s team to evaluate the home testing option will include his office, DEP Secretary Randy Huffman, the state Bureau of Public Health, DHHR Secretary Karen Bowling and the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety.

Thursday marks four weeks since the leak of Crude MCHM from the Freedom Industries site on the Elk River just upstream from the West Virginia American Water Kanawha Valley Plant in Charleston. The leak forced a Do Not Use water order for several days.

Centers for Disease Control National Center for Environmental Health Dr. Tanja Popovic said at Wednesday’s news conference she believes the water is safe.

“With all of the scientific evidence we have and with everything that numerous people have worked on so far, I can say you can use your water however you like,” Popovic said.

Federal EPA Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin said the EPA believes if residents followed the flushing instructions given their homes should be safe.

“We feel it is unlikely that this chemical is bonding to your piping,” Garvin said.

None of the experts were able to say how long the smell would remain in the water.

The shaky public confidence eroded even more Wednesday morning when Kanawha County school officials dismissed students at Riverside High School and Midland Trail Elementary schools early because of a licorice odor that came from flushing. A teacher and a student were taken to the hospital.  State School Superintendent Jim Phares said the flushing occurred because of water line breaks in the area not because of MCHM. Phares asked parents and others to trust the experts.

“It seems like we’ve lost this, but we’ve got to trust each other,” Phares said.

The governor said the concerns residents have are understandable but the state is relying on the best scientific evidence.

“They do not anticipate any adverse health effects,” Tomblin said.

The CDC’s Popovic agreed.

“Based on what we know– it seems unlikely there will long-term effects,” she said.

Both representatives said their agencies would continue to be involved as long as necessary.



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