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Independent researchers conduct in-home water sampling

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General mistrust continues to surround the quality of the drinking water in the Kanawha Valley, based on hundreds of complaints submitted by 13 News viewers.

The first of nearly 100,000 customers started flushing their pipes exactly a week ago--a process recommended by West Virginia American Water. Officials with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection say a chemical known as crude MCHM leaked from a storage facility at Freedom Industries.

Officials told residents to start flushing by "zones" once water samples tested below 1 parts per million in certain regions. President Jeff McIntyre said the water at the treatment plant's intake and outtake tested at non-detected levels as of last week.

McIntyre claimed "once you're below that 1 ppm, it's no longer a health issue."

By Saturday, the "Do Not Use" order had been lifted for all areas throughout nine counties.

The company and interagency teams will continue to test water in the system until all levels test below non-detection, which means the number is below what crews can analyze and measure, according to information provided by WV American Water. The company does not "plan to conduct in-home sampling."

"There's work people need to do for themselves, we can't do everything for everybody," McIntyre said.

Dr. Andrew Whelton temporarily provided that service to several people in Kanawha County. Whelton traveled from the University of South Alabama with a group of research assistants and graduate students. They offered to test the quality of water in people's homes at no cost.

"We came down here on Thursday because we became concerned with the public health crisis inside people's residences," said Whelton, who formerly worked for the U.S. Army and private consulting engineering firms.

Whelton said he's concerned about how much of the chemical remains in residents' plumbing systems--especially when he claims seven out of 10 homeowners he interviewed hadn't  flushed at all.

"We're surprised there are a number of people in the city of Charleston that have lost faith in the information that's been provided to them," he said.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin issued notes from a conference call conducted with Adj. Gen. James Hoyer and Dr. Tierney, the commissioner for the Bureau of Public Health.

"MCHM may temporarily adhere to plastic pipelines, which could result in a lingering licorice smell for some time," according to the note.

Whelton says there's a lack of information about whether the chemical could permeate pipes, damaging people's water systems.
The only information about MCHM comes from a series of students from its manufacturer, Eastman, conducted at various points during the 1990s.

Whelton said he's been advising residents based on a modified guideline, similar to what West Virginia American Water issued customers last week.

"We have advised homeowners to shut off their hot water heater, open all their windows and exterior doors, then do the flushing," Whelton said. "You need to flush your system as much as possible at the present time to remove the contaminated water."

The original guidelines recommended people flush their hot taps for 15 minutes, then cold taps for 5 minutes.

McIntyre addressed questions prompted by a story first reported by the Charleston Gazette. The U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry reportedly suggested that state officials should tell homeowners to run water until they no longer smelled the licorice-like odors, according to the article.

The federal agency did not return calls or e-mails Monday. Attempts to reach the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources were also unsuccessful.

McIntyre said he had not heard about this recommendation. He stood by the original guidelines Monday, rejecting the proposed idea.

"We simply would have no water," he said."It did affect the system when people didn't follow the guidelines."

Charleston resident Russell Anderson said he flushed longer than recommended last week.

"We want back and continued to do it," Anderson said. "Because we didn't really trust what they say."

The independent group of researchers said they sent their water samples to labs to test for levels of MCHM.

"I think they'll find the results we're finding," McIntyre said.

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