CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has directed the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health, in cooperation with local and state health officials, to move forward quickly to put together a home testing project, West Virginia Testing Assessment Project or WV TAP, for residences in the affected nine-county area of last month's chemical spill.
The Bureau for Public Health has engaged independent, scientific experts to initiate an initial assessment for testing tap water in homes; different types of plumbing materials found in homes will be included in the scope of this study.
The experts will also initiate an in-depth analysis to determine the odor threshold for MCHM and establish an independent panel of experts to evaluate the safety factor for MCHM.
The initial study could start Wednesday and take three weeks.
Tomblin has committed $650,000 from his budget for the initial work. The governor has also reached out to U.S. Senators Rockefeller and Manchin, as well as Congressman Rahall and Congresswoman Capito to ask for their support of federal assistance to conduct ongoing research addressing short-term and long-term health impacts in addition to the fundamental research about this chemical.
"This is not just a West Virginia problem," Tomblin said, explaining it could happen anywhere in the country.
Letitia Tierney, commissioner of the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health and State Health Officer, said the weekend's work has been a "positive step forward toward restoring public confidence." She praised the cooperation of the local, state and federal stakeholders involved. Tierney said she was particularly pleased outside, independent experts have been engaged to offer guidance on how to proceed.
Rahul Gupta, executive director and health officer of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department and the Putnam County Health Department, praised the cooperation between all involved. "We're looking at a short-term plan to immediately restore confidence and a long-term plan to determine the health effects, if any, in the future," Gupta said. "I am happy local health departments are involved in the process."
Harry Tweel, executive director of the Cabell-Huntington Health Department, praised Tomblin for his continued interest in maintaining a healthy water system and said the ongoing work represents a more than 30-year partnership between local health departments and the state and federal government.
Dr. Andrew Whelton and Jeffrey Rosen of Corona Environmental Consulting will lead the independent team.
Whelton is a professor at the University of South Alabama who has been studying drinking water from affected homes and their residential plumbing systems. Whelton was recently awarded a National Science Foundation grant for this research. Whelton has advanced degrees in environmental and civil engineering. His 14 years of experience includes designing and overseeing safe drinking water systems for the U.S. military as a civilian employee of the U.S. Army.
Whelton says a larger study would follow involving homes "up in the thousands."
"I commend Governor Tomblin for stepping up and being proactive," Whelton said. "What has happened in West Virginia is unprecedented in U.S. history. The tasks he has assigned the team promise to yield significant contributions toward safeguarding public health not only in this affected area but nationwide and around the world."
Whelton also said, "This project will not involve other chemicals that are airborne in the area," adding that "the federal government needs to act soon."
Jeffrey Rosen, president of Corona Environmental Consulting, LLC, will provide guidance as the project manager. Rosen will help to coordinate all statistical design, activities, logistics, and management associated with the project. Rosen is a senior scientist and statistician with more than 30 years of experience in conducting environmental research. Rosen has been supporting the drinking water community for more than 25 years and has worked on a wide range of topics including regulation development, online monitoring, Homeland Security and information system development.
Keep clicking WSAZ.com for the latest on this story.