CHARLESTON – Last week, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin joined federal partners from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as well as West Virginia State Agencies and Departments to provide a detailed update regarding the Elk River chemical spill.
The update included what has been accomplished, the current status of the spill response, and the actions the team plans to take moving forward. Tomblin later directed his team to evaluate home testing options.
“Good afternoon. I’d like to first thank our state partners who are joining us: Secretary of DEP Randy Huffman; Secretary of DHHR Karen Bowling; Dr. Letitia Tierney, Commissioner of the Bureau of Public Health; General James Hoyer, Adjutant General of the West Virginia National Guard; Jimmy Gianato with the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management; our 9 county emergency management offices; State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jim Phares and our county superintendents; local health officials, and I’d like to recognize our federal partner who have been with us every step of the way: Dr. Tanja Popovic, (Acting) Director of the National Center for Environmental Health; Dr. Ed Murray, Director, Division of Toxicology and Human Health Sciences; Shawn M. Garvin, EPA Regional Administrator; Bill Arguto, Chief, EPA Drinking Water Branch; Dennis Matlock, EPA On-Scene Coordinator; and Mark Ferrell, West Virginia/EPA Liaison.
“Like you and all of the 300,000 West Virginians I am frustrated and angry. I share your concerns about the water crisis, as does my team here in West Virginia, the national experts we have depended upon for guidance and the federal partners who are standing with me today.
“As your Governor, I’m committed to ensuring your health and safety. I do not take this commitment lightly. All of my efforts these last three weeks have been focused on protecting your health and safety.
“You have shared with me personally and through emails and letters your concerns and frustrations. I’ve heard you - I have been listening.
“We-my emergency response team, my public health team, our scientists, the National Guard, and our federal partners who are with me here today-have been working day-in, day-out since January 9th to fix this problem and to restore normalcy.
“We all have the same question - Is my water really safe? This question is justifiable and cannot be ignored.
“I applaud the courage of those who have attended the public hearings and town hall meetings. Your comments and concerns are appreciated. And, I understand your frustrations, your need for assurances and your call for action.
“You will hear-in depth and from the experts-about the water testing protocol we developed and implemented just hours after this crisis hit, and have continued daily since that night. I value and trust the opinions of the experts standing with me-and those who have assisted our efforts.
“We are here to explain-in thorough detail-what we’ve accomplished during the last three weeks, where we stand now, and what actions we will take as we move forward.
“After receiving notice of the West Virginia American Water DO NOT USE order on the evening of January 9th, and declaring a State of Emergency, our National Guard took immediate action working with the CDC and the EPA to develop testing protocols and procedures as well as water use and safety guidelines.
“We made hospitals, nursing homes and long-term care facilities our number one priority to ensure critical care of our most at-risk residents. We tested all of our schools and provided additional water to keep our kids in the classroom and utilized federal resources to direct water to homes and businesses in need.
“This event is most important a public health issue AND it is also an environmental and economic development issue. I am committed to creating and retaining good West Virginia jobs. We must do this and have clean water and a healthy environment. It is not an either or proposition.
“Science suggests the water is safe - and our efforts will continue as we keep testing. I have asked WVAM to continue testing throughout its distribution system. This additional testing and the conclusions will continue to be posted online. We recognize that transparency promotes confidence.
“In addition, I have directed our bureau of public health to continue testing the raw water and the finished water at the water plant for the foreseeable future. I also directed the bureau of public health to certify that West Virginia American Water change its filters at the plant as quickly as possible. We will continue our due diligence in making sure that effort happens quickly.
“While the bureau of public health requires testing of more than 60 contaminants within our drinking water system, I have directed WV American Water to include MCHM and PPH to the list they must test. And I expect WVAW to make available additional water to their customers who request it.
“It will be a month tomorrow when this chemical spill happened. And with everything we have done-and everything we will continue to do at the end of the day, we all just want to know: is our water safe? We will not lose sight of our goal of keeping your water safe.
“The foremost scientists in their fields across the world-some of whom you will hear from today-have advised they do not anticipate any adverse health effects. Your concerns are understandable and we will continue to address them head-on.”