MADISON – Katy Blizzard Toler said she came to last week’s Boone County Commission regular session meeting as an advocate for many residents in the county with concerns about the safety of the public water.
Although it’s been several weeks since a chemical spill in the Elk River contaminated the public water supply of West Virginia American Water customers in Boone and eight other counties, many residents are still afraid to use the water for anything other than flushing their toliets.
“I am not here to point fingers or blame anyone, but I am a little disappointed in our elected officials that they have not had any type of town hall meetings in the county to give the people a chance to voice concerns or ask questions to those that represent us,” she told county commissioners during the Feb. 4 meeting.
Toler is a mother of two small children and also operates the Danville Animal Clinic with her husband. She said her youngest son has experienced itching skin and others have told her about burning eyes and other physical effects after using the water.
“We have been told by the water company and some officials that the water is safe to use, but then other stories have come out that it’s not safe for pregnant women, or children, or the elderly, or those we compromised immune systems, so nobody really knows if it’s safe or not,” she said. “We need to know. We need answers. We need to know what the long-term effects to exposure to this contaminated water might be in the future. People are scared and I just think Boone County should maybe have some type of town hall type meetings around the county to let people say what they think and voice their concerns.”
Boone County Commission President Eddie Hendricks said he understands Toler and other’s frustrations.
“This is just so much bad information out there that nobody knows or understands what is going on with this water crisis,” he said. “We are in the same situation as everyone else as far as all this information goes.”
Greg Lay with the Boone County Emergency Management Agency submitted a report of testing results in Boone County done by the National Guard and examined by two independent laboratories. The state’s safe “non-detect or ND” level is a reading at 10 parts per billion. The federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a safe level reading for the water company at a reading of one part per million.
“We try to post all of the testing results online on our Facebook page,” Lay said.
He said the agency has been posting county water testing results online on its Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/bcema, however viewers may have to scroll through the postings to find results.
Boone commissioner Mickey Brown said the county purchased water for distribution because they didn’t want to wait on the federal or state governments or other groups to get bottled water to the communities.
“We have distributed over two million bottles of water,” he said. “We agree that the county still needs water distribution and it’s our understanding that West Virginia American Water Company could be providing even more bottled water.”
Although all public schools have been cleared in testing to use the water, Boone County Schools Superintendent John Hudson said the county’s schools are using bottled water for drinking and food preparation.
While all areas of Boone County that have been tested by the National Guard are at safe levels, people still don’t trust that the water is safe and have reported that the water smelled bad, was discolored, tasted funny and caused physical effects.
“I just think Boone County needs a second opinion, which includes more testing, town hall meetings, more flushing, and more explanation and answers,” Toler said.
Boone commissioner Atholl Halstead agreed with many of Toler’s questions and concerns, but said he doubted the water company would test the water in every individual home in the county.
“I have been getting lots of calls and I can’t tell anyone if their water is good or not,” he said. “It may take some time, but I believe when this is all over with, we will have a better quality of water.”
Hendricks added that Boone County state Senator Ron Stollings, who is also a physician in the county, told him that individuals could get their homes tested at a cost of $90, if that is something that each individual wanted to do.
“We can only go by what the water company is telling us, what the test results are showing and what our state and federal government is telling us,” Hendricks said. “As far as the county goes, we have worked hard to get bottled water to every area of the county to those in need. We have worked long hours with the help of law enforcement, other county workers and volunteers and organizations to help our neighbors and communities in need. That is one thing that I have seen during this crisis that makes me so proud of Boone County. They are checking on their neighbors, family and friends. They are making sure the senior citizens and those who may not have the means are getting taken care of and everyone is coming together and doing their best to try to get through this difficult time.”
The commission did not commit to attempt to schedule any type of town hall type meetings in the county. So far no Boone County local, state or federal officials have committed to town hall meeting in Boone County, but town hall meeting have taken place in Charleston. Also, several West Virginia officials traveled to Washington, D.C., to voice concerns during U.S. Senate hearing regarding the chemical spill.