Let the scientists take over the water problem

Governor Tomblin seemed almost relieved as he announced that the state had hired Corona Environmental consulting group to conduct independent testing of the water in the nine county region affected by the MCHM spill last month.

“It’s time to let the political officials step aside and let the scientists come in and do the work that we need them to do,” Tomblin said.

With that, the Governor turned over the podium at Tuesday’s news conference to Dr. Andrew Whelton. The assistant professor of Environmental Engineering at the University of South Alabama and one of the principals of Corona sounds like a guy who’s ready to take over.

First, Whelton pulled no punches.  He identified the contamination of the drinking water for 300,000 people and the ongoing issues as “unprecedented in U.S. history,” and he promised to get answers to the following:

–Has the contaminated water impacted some homes differently because of their plumbing?  They’re already testing ten homes and will broaden that to 100.

–They’ll examine the odor issue and analyze why the smell persists even after the contamination level falls below what’s been established as a safe level.

–Whelton promises to include a panel of independent experts who will evaluate the short-term and long-term health effects of MCHM.

Whelton has a deep background on water issues, and he exudes knowledge, confidence and seriousness when he talks.  He’s a major improvement over some of the national people at last week’s press conference who sought to qualify their answers and avoid speaking in certainties.

Governor Tomblin has said over and over during this mess that he’s not a scientist, and some of the scientists who have been at the podium have simply been unable to restore public confidence in the water supply.

That’s now Whelton’s job, and he seems to embrace the challenge.  He willingly talks to all reporters and is candid about the scope of the problem.   “The scale of the contamination is unprecedented,” he said.

At first, that sounds a little frightening, but the honesty is refreshing. Not that other officials have been dishonest–save Freedom Industries. It’s just that they have been, at times, perhaps overly cautious and somewhat uncertain.

I think we’re going to be hearing a lot from Dr. Whelton in the coming weeks, maybe months.  We don’t know what will come during that time from the professor, but he’s off to a good start.

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