Widespread Water Testing Plan Released

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ & AP) -- New information has been released on how an independent firm will conduct widespread water testing in homes affected by the water crisis back on Jan. 9.

The WVTAP group, hired by the state of West Virginia, released the results from its initial testing phase on Friday at West Virginia State University.

The group, made up of seven experts, was hired after a chemical leak at Freedom Industries in Charleston that contaminated the water for more than 300,000 people in nine counties. These customers were under a "do not use" water ban for days following the spill.

During the initial phase, the group tested 10 home taps for the chemical MCHM. During this time, WVTAP had four goals including at what levels MCHM can be smelled, MCHM sampling in homes, evaluate breakdown products and then evaluate the screening levels.

Water samples were taken between February 11-18.

According to researchers, MCHM was detected in all the homes that were tested, but all were less than 10 parts per billion (ppb). That is below the recommended level by the CDC that 1 parts per million (ppm) is considered safe.

However, no relationship was found between the MCHM level and the location of the home or water temperature. The study also found that results could have been different if the tests were conducted at different homes in the same neighborhood. For example, MCHM levels could be higher in one person's kitchen sink while a neighbor could detect a higher level in a bathroom sink, according to experts.

One of the 10 homes had a 4.4 ppb of MCHM, according to the results.

"Ppb is like looking for one person in all of China. That's how small ppb is," Dr. Charles Neslund, from Eurofins, the largest water testing lab in the United States, said during the presentation. "Low levels of MCHM are still coming out of West Virginia American Water treatment plant."

Researchers say PPH, the second chemical leaking from a tank at Freedom Industries, was not detected at any of the ten homes tested.

Another part of this phase of testing was to see at what level people could smell the chemical. Experts say more women than men participated in the odor threshold testing and they found people could smell the chemical even though reports showed non-detect levels.

Now that the initial phase has wrapped up, researchers announced Friday they are ready to begin the widespread water testing.

Researchers say they will test in all nine counties affected by the water crisis. They will test 20 to 30 single family homes in each of the 21 pressure zones and take six samples within each home tested. Businesses and multi-family homes, like apartment buildings will not be tested.

During this widespread testing, experts will only test for MCHM, not PPH, since it was not detected during the initial phase of testing. Other details are still being worked out.

Experts say this will give them enough data to get a good consensus of the chemical concentration and to determine if the water is safe.

Researchers say they are using a smaller scale sample because if they sampled every home affected by the leak it would cost $635M and take 86 weeks to complete. Experts say 100 teams would be needed with three trained professional on every team.

The study the state has funded will cost $762,000.

The final report on this widespread testing is expected to be completed by May 15.

Next Tuesday, researchers with WVTAP will critique the federal safe level established for one of the chemicals in the drinking water.

Meanwhile, a group of students from University of South Alabama is currently conducting tests of pipes. The students will test crude and pure MCHM to determine how fast the water flows in and out of certain type of pipes, according to experts.

Right now, they are testing polyethylene pipes, or PEX. They are the most flexible type of pipes and people can find them in their homes. Then, they will test CPVC and copper pipes. These results could take months to compile.

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources released the following statement:

“I appreciate the work of the West Virginia Testing Assessment Project (WV TAP),” Dr. Letitia Tierney, Commissioner of the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health and State Health Officer, said. “The testing results reported today are reassuring.

“The core mission of the Bureau for Public Health is the health, safety and well-being of all West Virginians. The Bureau for Public Health embraces the values of community, science and evidenced-based decision. The Bureau has been actively engaged in this event since day one and we will continue to be ever vigilant. We have moved from a response to a recovery phase. Today’s results reassure me that we are on the correct path.”

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