It’s been over a month since the storage tank owned by Freedom Industries leaked thousands of gallons of chemicals into the Elk River, and residents are still concerned about the safety of their water. Even though government officials have said for weeks that the water is suitable for regular daily needs, many are hesitant to trust this claim. The Huffington Post notes that a number of people would still rather drive to a tanker truck than use the tap water in their homes.
West Virginians have found it hard to trust claims from officials and Freedom Industries, after receiving mixed messages and unclear information about the chemical that tainted the state’s largest water supply. Concerns are only made worse by the fact that officials will not use the word “safe” to describe the water, arguing that the term is subjective. Instead, they have been stating that the water is “appropriate to use.” This is doing little to quell the fear of 300,000 residents across nine counties who were told to avoid using the water for anything other than flushing the toilets in the first days of the spill.
Residents can still smell the licorice odor that comes out of some showers, toilets and taps in businesses and homes. According to Huffington Post, the smell was rediscovered in five schools on February 5th and 6th; these schools were temporarily shut down by the district. One teacher was even hospitalized after fainting. Restaurants in Charleston have signs saying “We’re cooking with bottled water.”
Little is known about crude MCHM and stripped PPH, the two chemicals that seeped into the Elk River in Charleston on January 9th. After first, Freedom did not even disclose that PPH was even in the water.
Kanawha County Health Officer Dr. Rahul Gupta says that doctors are still telling some patients, such as those with compromised immune systems and chronic conditions, to avoid the water on a case-by-case basis. Gupta, who was at a recent public meeting where many expressed wanting to move, said “People are as angry and as frustrated as they were in the first few days…It’s been a challenge. We are on frontiers unknown. And, the population — the 300,000 people or so — continue to suffer.”
Last week, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin changed his mind in deciding to pursue in-home water testing, which will be part of a larger study that looks into the details used to initially lift the water ban. Dr. Andrew Whelton of the University of South Alabama has been contracted to conduct the study. With a $650,000 grant from the state, Whelton will take water samples in some homes and analyze how the chemicals leaks through or bonds to the pipes. He will also be investigating the smell and threat of the chemicals, and look into CDC standards of how much is safe to ingest.