WSAZ Investigates: We Test the Water

CLICK HERE to read the full Water Testing Results

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Weeks after a chemical spill in the Kanawha Valley that left hundreds of thousands without water, people are still not confident the water is safe.

Many people have contacted us and wanted a second opinion on the water. So, we hired an independent lab to take samples from around the Kanawha Valley and surrounding areas.

You can read the full test results by clicking the link at the top of this story.

We tested those samples for MCHM, and one of them for 50,000 compounds.

The results were fairly clear: the water seems to be OK.

We worked with ALS Environmental in Charleston to pull four samples.

In each case, we took two liters of water and opted for a more detailed test.

Each sample was analyzed at .01 parts per million.

Our first sample came from Sharon Spencer's kitchen faucet, in the South Hills area of Charleston.

That's where the water ban was lifted and placed again before finally being lifted for good.

"It smells like licorice, it smells like that strong licorice smell, and I did flush these pipes, I flushed all the pipes," said Sharon Spencer.

Results from this sample showed MCHM was not detected.

It's not necessarily the case for all.

Keep in mind, some schools in that area are now re-testing for the chemical after recent tests showed higher levels of MCHM in their water.

Again, ours was clear.

We took a second sample, about five miles down the road, at Sugar Pie Bakery in Charleston.

This sample came from their kitchen's three-bowl sink.

The bakery co-owner, Gina Watts, flushed their system after their zone was lifted, but, they soon got the licorice smell. That has since gone away.

Still, they're using bottled water to stay open. "We've been inspected by the health department, they gave us the good to go, but still just, we don't really know, they don't know enough about the chemical," said Sugar Pie Bakery Co-Owner, Gina Watts.

Our results from this sample surprised workers there.

Again, no MCHM was found.

Our third sample came from Buffalo Tiger Mart in Buffalo.

The gas station is in an area where a ban was lifted, put back in place and lifted again.

"Whenever they told us to flush it, it started to smell like it, when they put us back on it, it smelled like it all through that part," said Tiger Mart worker, C.J. Jividen.

Our samples came from a sink that uses the same water line as fountain drinks and coffee.

The results were what many had hoped for.


We took our final sample directly from the Elk River, just up from Freedom Industries.

The smell of licorice was still noticeable near the water and D.E.P. officials were working in the area.

We tested this sample for 50,000 compounds.

The results were astonishingly clear.

No MCHM was detected, and the remaining compounds were also undetected.

In fact, the lab worker described it as "clean as a whistle."

Many of you may still be skeptical about these lab tests.

They were tests from an independent lab that we paid for.

One of the biggest concerns we've heard is the remaining smell. Lab workers said that smell is due to a low odor threshold, which means even the smallest amount leaves a big odor.

There were also separate versions of the tests, where lab workers injected certain chemicals into our samples, including MCHM, to make sure we could actually get results.

In each test, they had hits from those chemicals, which ensured their testing worked.

After we received our water test results, we went back to where we got the samples to hear from those people.

The question we had is: Will you drink the water now?

Turning on the tap is a sour subject for Sharon Spencer. Just a week ago, she tried her tap water and spit it right back out. She said the water tasted awful.

"I still am optimistically cautious, and I have lots of bottled water to go through," Spencer said.

When we shared the test results, no MCHM, Spencer was hesitant to jump for joy.

"It's showing that there are no levels now that we need to be concerned about, but at the same token, I still don't know what's going on, the rest of the county, those areas that haven't been tested and also the long-term effects," Spencer said.

Spencer said that's reason enough to wait. "I don't cook with it, nor do I drink it," she said.

She said that will be the case for a while.

"I don't think people realize until it happens to them, the importance of water and the fact that you don't have it, you can't use it, and particularly those first couple of days it was frightening because you go into the store and the water is gone," Spencer said.

Just down the road in Charleston, we shared our test results with the owners of Sugar Pie Bakery.

"I'm so glad to hear that, we've been really worried about that," Watts said.

She said the crisis has hurt their business.

But she said knowing MCHM was not detected in these tests means things may be able to change soon.

"We'll kind of poll our customers to see how they feel, if they want us to keep doing what we're doing or if they want us to go ahead and continue as normal," Watts said.

She said this crisis also provides perspective on being ready for the unknown. "Makes you want to be prepared for something like this, you do have to plan ahead, we do live in chemical valley, you never know what's going to happen," Watts said.

In this case, she hopes the worst is over and the faucets in her bakery's kitchen can soon be used again.

The lab we hired for the testing is ALS Environmental.

You can also get your own water tested. They're doing residential testing for $65. You can contact ALS Environmental at (304) 356-3168.

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