BOONE COUNTY — Last Wednesday night, it was reported that water test samples in Boone County were showing higher than acceptable levels of MCHM, the toxic chemical in the water, and a West Virginia American Water spokesperson said the ban will not be lifted until they start going down.
Then on Thursday morning, the water company said the “do not use” water order had been lifted for 12,200 more customers, including all of Boone County.
The most recent areas to be lifted included Culloden, Hamlin, Cross Lanes, Poca, Nitro and all Boone County customers.
An interagency team including the W.Va. Bureau for Public Health, West Virginia American Water and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that extensive testing produced results showing that levels of MCHM are below one part per million in Boone County, according to a press release from West Virginia American Water.
Several Boone County residents remain skeptical of the water’s safety.
“So how do you go from the highest level of chemicals to flushing overnight and it hasn’t been consistently tested for a 24 hour period?” Janet Cooper posted on Coal Valley News’ Facebook page.
“This makes no sense to me,” posted Summer Moore.
In interviews with numerous local residents by the Coal Valley News, few were convinced that all was well, and an outside environmental scientist questioned the standards authorities were using.
The scientist, Richard Denison of the Environmental Defense Fund, an advocacy group, said the government calculation of a safe level appeared to be based on a single study by the chemical’s manufacturer, never published, and that it included several leaps of reasoning that he called unfounded, it was previously reported.
“This is a significant departure from how the E.P.A. normally calculates risk,” he said.
“At this time, scientists continue to recommend 1 part per million as a protective level to prevent adverse health effects. However, due to limited availability of data, and out of an abundance of caution, you may wish to consider an alternative drinking water source for pregnant women until the chemical is at non-detectable levels in the water distribution system,” the water company said in its statement that was recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.
Dr. Denison, however, a biochemist, said the government’s methodology was flawed. He said basing calculations on the lethal dose in rats ignored broader and more likely health consequences for humans. “What is far more likely is subtle health effects,” he said. “This chemical could cause liver or kidney damage. It could interfere with metabolism in people.”
One of many West Virginia lawmakers scrambling to devise new statutes to prevent future catastrophes, State Senator John Unger, the majority leader, said he could not second-guess the scientists. But he understood why people remained fearful of their tap water.
“What we don’t know are the long-term effects of this chemical,” he said. “Have they done any research? No one knows. This is the problem.”
“The ban is being lifted in a strict, methodical manner to help ensure the water system is not overwhelmed by excessive demand, causing more water quality and service issues,” the water company went on to say. “Zones have been established based on the flow of water from the treatment plant through the system. West Virginia American Water is communicating the lift area statuses through a variety of sources including an interactive webpage where customers can enter their address and see their water service status. This map is accessible at www.westvirginiaamwater.com.”
To supplement the web-based map, automated phone calls using our company customer database will be launched in coordination with lifted zones. However, some Boone County residents have reported not receiving any call from the water company.
“A temporary local 24/7 hotline has been established at 855-390-4569 for additional clarification,” the water company said. “All other questions should be directed to our CustomerServiceCenter at 1-800-685-8660.”
The water company said that customers in lifted zones will need to flush their home plumbing systems. West Virginia American Water has provided flushing guidance via its website, media, and call center.
“Only customers located within the zones that have been lifted should begin flushing,” the press release stated. “Please do not begin flushing until your zone is lifted, nor flush beyond the necessary 25 minutes and put additional strain on the water system.”
The water company has said it would give customers a 1,000 gallon credit on their water bills, which is around $5.
U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said he plans to introduce federal legislation that would require inspections for chemical storage facilities located along rivers and other waterways.