Scientist Discusses Water Testing after Chemical Spill at Marshall University

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The first phase of an in-home water testing program is nearly complete following a chemical spill that affected water in nine West Virginia counties.

The additional testing came after a request from Governor Earl Ray Tomblin.

One of the leaders of the testing project was at Marshall University Thursday night talking about their progress.

A crowd of Marshall students and advocates for clean drinking water spent the evening absorbing the latest on the January 9 MCHM chemical spill.

Dr. Andrew Whelton from the University of South Alabama is one of the scientists testing water from homes in each of the affected counties. "We have been working tremendous hours," Dr. Whelton said.

So far, 90 samples have been taken from 10 homes. Following the initial home testing, Dr. Whelton says a larger study would take place, involving homes "up in the thousands."

One of the questions the state-funded West Virginia TAP Program is trying to answer is why some people are still smelling the licorice odor.

"Certainly we want the chemical levels to decrease of course, but we also want to see it decrease below levels that cause odor problems as well. Right now there is no data which proves what level at which people can smell these chemicals in the drinking water," Dr. Whelton said.

Jim Ashworth from Huntington attended the meeting. He says everyone has a stake in preventing another crisis. "It's a problem probably all over the country. It's certainly one here. We need to be more active in requiring the state to monitor chemical facilities of all kinds," Ashworth said.

While legislation like that is debated at the state and federal level, Whelton, his team, and the people affected, wait for the results.

Gov. Tomblin has committed $650 from his budget for the initial work, but is asking for federal assistance to conduct ongoing research.

More of the group's findings are being discussed at a press conference in Charleston Friday morning.

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