UPDATE: Parents Concerned After Chemical Smell at Charleston Schools

By: Anna Baxter, Shannon Houser Email
By: Anna Baxter, Shannon Houser Email

UPDATE 2/6/14 @ 5:30 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- J.E. Robins, Overbrook and Watts Elementary Schools were all dismissed early Thursday, due to licorice smelling water.

Tarah Jones knew something was wrong Thursday morning when she got a call from J.E. Robins Elementary School on Charleston's west side. "They just said there was a water issue."

It wasn't until she picked up her daughter, Ceciliah, about 10:30 a.m. Thursday, she knew exactly what that water problem was. "I could smell it when I went in, so I am happy they are sending the kids home."

She was smelling licorice. Kanawha County Schools Superintendent, Dr. Ron Duerring, says a cook was using the dishwasher and running the kitchen sink as usual when she started smelling the chemical. Her eyes even starting burning. Students and staff were sent home.

"We didn't create this problem," Dr. Duerring says. "We're only responding to when the issues arise, but the safety of our children will always come first."

Parents, who are understandably frustrated, just want to know when all the water problems will stop. Ashley Skiles says, "We don't know what's going to happen, what's going on with the water, how it's going to affect us." Jones adds, "We've had our kids out of school for so long. They're not getting the education they need."

Students in Kanawha County are losing out on valuable education time, while the water problems continue to build. It's enough to push some parents out of the area. Barry Alderman says, "not only changing schools, but maybe changing zip codes, going north and getting away from Charleston if we have to."

Dr. Duerring says they've been submitting all costs to FEMA, as requested by the state board of education. He says he doesn't know what the time frame is for reimbursement.

Tests from all the schools came back Thursday afternoon. Duerring says all the results came back clean of the chemical and classes will resume Friday.

UPDATE 2/6/14 @ 4:30 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The West Virginia National Guard conducted water tests Thursday after reports of the licorice smell that is associated with the chemical MCHM being detected at three schools in Kanawha County.

J.E. Robins, Overbrook and Watts elementary schools were all dismissed early Thursday, due to the smell.

Kanawha County Schools Superintendent Ron Duerring says test results from all three schools came back as non-detect, meaning there were no trace of MCHM in the water.

Duerring released the following statement Thursday afternoon:
"In consultation with the Kanawha – Charleston Health Department officials, the Governor’s Office, National Guard, and the West Virginia Department of Education the decision was made to keep schools open.

Kanawha County Schools have followed all flushing protocols and in many cases have gone beyond requirements in an effort to ensure student safety. We also continue to provide bottled water, cook with bottled water, and make available hand sanitizer. In addition, all schools in the county were tested last week and all were reported at the non-detect level.

Health experts have told us that odors may remain in the water but that does not mean the school is unsafe.

We understand that students, parents and teachers remain concerned. So in an effort to bring peace of mind to parents, we are working with a Response Team which will be called out if a concern arises. The team will consist of the National Guard, local health officials and county staff members.

Finally, over the next few weeks the Response Team will conduct random inspections and additional random sampling. You can expect to SEE these teams in your schools."

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest on this story.

ORIGINAL STORY 2/6/14 @ 9:20 a.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Three schools in Kanawha County are closing as a precaution after the smell of Licorice that's been associated with the chemical MCHM was detected.

Superintendent Ron Duerring tells WSAZ.com a cook using the dishwasher at J.E. Robins Elementary School smelled the licorice smell and complained her eyes started to burn.

Duerring says the county decided right away to dismiss school at 10 a.m. as a precaution. This comes just a day after several people got sick at two other schools in the county for the same smell believed to be associated with MCHM that leaked into the Elk River last month.

The school board has contacted the proper agencies, including the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department. Duerring says the school will be reflushed and tested again for the chemical MCHM.

Duerring says it doesn't make sense why the smell keeps popping up.

Duerring says the three tests that were returned from Riverside High School and Midland Trail Elementary School on Wednesday show no signs of MCHM. Both schools will be open Friday since the tests came back clear.

Meanwhile, Watts Elementary School has also decided to close early due to water concerns. The school will dismiss at 11:15 a.m.

School officials say a staff member at Watts reported when she was running water to fill up a fish tank she smelled the licorice smell.

Principal Pamela Gould called it a "slight odor."

Overbrook Elementary is the third school to close early Thursday. The school closed at noon due to water concerns.

A staff member reported the smell at Overbrook Thursday morning. Then, school leaders say a custodian started checking various taps and smelled a "faint" odor.

School officials tell WSAZ.com it was smelled it several rooms. Thursday was the first day the staff started using trays again and the dishwashers, according to the school.

The National Guard will be at these schools Thursday to do more testing. Then, the water lines will be reflushed.

A spokesperson with West Virginia American Water tells WSAZ.com they received no water quality complaints before the schools reported the odor. Laura Jordan says after the schools reported the odor they did get some calls from people who live in the area concerned if they needed to do something with their systems, but they did not experience the odor at their homes.

Jordan says there was no flushing or work being done in the area that would have caused the smell. She also points out that all of these schools have been tested and the results have shown non-detectable levels of the chemical.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.

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