MADISON — Responding to requests from Boone County citizens, West Virginia American Water officials came to the Tuesday, Feb. 18, regular session meeting of the Boone County Commission to speak about water quality.
The county was one of nine affected by a chemical spill in the Elk River in Kanawha County, which contaminated the water supply of Boone County customers of West Virginia American Water in early January.
West Virginia American Water President Jeff McIntyre says since the water crisis happened the water company has worked around the clock to flush lines, clean certain tanks and do all needed and necessary steps to provide clean and safe tap water to its customers.
“We are now at non-detect levels with all of our water,” McIntyre told commissioners. “There still may be some smell to the water, but we are at 100 times below the safe level.”
Non-detect means that there are no traces of the chemical “MCHM” at neither the 1 part per million screening level recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for protecting public health nor the 10 parts per billion screen level directed by West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, McIntyre added.
McIntyre added that the chemical doesn’t float, nor does it sink.
“You have a lot of rumors and false information going around that is causing a lot of this lack of confidence, but I can tell you we are providing good water below the detection level in our system,” he said.
The National Guard has responded to complaints made at some Kanawha County schools, but each time the testing comes back with non-detect results.
“I drink the tap water and so does my family,” McIntyre said. “If schools, or businesses or individuals in their homes do not want to drink the water, then it’s their choice. It is not something we are telling them to do or not to do.”
Commission President Eddie Hendricks agreed that a lot of misinformation continues to go out to the public.
“We just want our county residents to know that we are doing all we can to get them correct information and that’s why we asked the West Virginia American Water Company officials to come to our meeting today,” Hendricks said.
“There are lots of people speaking about this situation that maybe should not be speaking,” McIntyre said. “We are speaking from the facts we know.”
Hendricks, who is also an educator at Van High School, said all Boone County public schools were still using bottled water for drinking and cooking due to concerns from parents and students.
“Again, this is everyone’s choice,” McIntyre said. “All of the water in Boone County is at non-detect level, which is 100 times below what the CDC says is the safe level.”
Commissioner Atholl Halstead said he believed the county would have better water due to all the flushing of lines, cleaning of tanks and filters and other things being done by both the water company and water customers.
“I have been using the water,” he said. “But I don’t know when people are going to get their confidence with the water back. I imagine it will take some time, but I do believe that we are going to have a better quality of water when this is over.”
Commissioner Mickey Brown said that county residents want the commission to say the water is safe.
“We can’t tell people it’s safe, so that’s why we requested the water company come to the commission meeting to tell the public the facts regarding the water,” he said.
There were no members of the public at the meeting to ask questions to water company officials. McIntyre said he would gladly come back to Boone County to answer any questions or concerns if his schedule permitted.
“As you can imagine, we are going all over the nine county affected areas to talk with officials and the public to get accurate information out there,” he said. “That’s why we came to Boone County today, which was to answer questions and concerns.”
All water testing results and water crisis information are posted on the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management website: http://www.dhsem.wv.gov/Pages/WV-American-Water-Emergency.aspx
Meanwhile in Charleston, Gov. Tomblin and Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Karen Bowling sent a letter to Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to formally request the CDC, or its partners, immediately conduct further epidemiological and/or toxicological studies and address ongoing population surveillance or monitoring as a result of the January 9 Elk River chemical spill.
“I am committed to the health and well-being of West Virginians and believe there is a pressing need to further study the potential health effects resulting from exposure to water contaminated with crude MCHM and PPH,” Tomblin said. “It is critical this study is funded and that work begins immediately.”