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West Virginia to receive federal funding for studies on long-term health effects

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West Virginia will receive federal funding to understand the health effects of the January 9 chemical spill, which tainted the water supply for hundreds of thousands of people.

On Wednesday Senator Joe Manchin met with federal, state and county officials to discuss long-term studies.

Those in attendance included the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institute of Health (NIH), WV Health and Human Resource Cabinet Secretary Karen Bowling, Dr. Letitia Tierney and Dr. Rahul Gupta of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department.

According to Manchin's office, this is the first time all parties have met together.

The NIH and the CDC will be conducting the studies. They are estimated to take a year and cost between $750,000 and $1.2 million.  Studies will include model predictors & animal testing to determine developmental & gene effects.

The CDC and the NIH have agreed to do animal testing to see effects of MCHM at very low levels. They believe this will help them determine whether it will have any long term impact on people.

For months state and county officials have lobbied for money to study crude MCHM, the chemical that tainted the water supply for 9 counties.

In February, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin asked for additional tests to determine the health effects of consuming, breathing of coming in contact with the chemical.

The CDC responded with a letter in March, saying long-term effects were "unlikely." The agency described plans to only track trends with pre-existing resources, such as birth defects surveillance, cancer registries and health systems data.

The CDC, National Institutes of Health's (NIH) National Toxicology Program, and NIH's National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences will work with state officials to design and conduct the testing, including bringing a team of experts to West Virginia.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., hosted the meeting between CDC and top officials in Washington, D.C. on July 23.

Those in attendance included Dr. Tom Frieden, director of CDC; Dr. John Bucher, Associate Director of the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) National Toxicology Program; Dr. Robin Ikeda, Acting Director of the National Center for Environmental Health and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry; Mary Gant, program analyst at the NIH's National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences; Secretary Karen Bowling, West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources; Dr. Letitia Tierney, Commissioner of the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health and State Health Officer; Dr. Rahul Gupta, Health Officer and Executive Director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department.

Manchin said he was pleased with the cooperation from federal partners.

"We have all agreed that it is necessary to conduct additional scientific testing to rebuild West Virginians' confidence that the water they use and drink every day is safe for themselves and their children, and to ensure there is a clear understanding of any potential long-term health impacts,” Manchin said in a news release July 23. “These tests should be completed within a year, at which point we will come together to assess the findings and determine what additional steps we will need to take. In the meantime, I thank the CDC, the National Institutes of Health, Secretary Bowling, Dr. Tierney, and Dr. Gupta for coming together to continue to monitor the health effects of exposed West Virginians. I am very confident we are moving in the right direction and I am truly grateful all relevant parties came to the table today."

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said he is working closely with the DHHR on receiving the funding.

"My administration, particularly DHHR Secretary Karen Bowling, has worked with local, state and federal partners to secure funding for additional MCHM tests and long-term medical surveillance to assess any potential health implications for our residents as a result of the Jan. 9 Elk River chemical spill. We appreciate the assistance of the CDC and NIH and look forward to moving forward with the process," Tomblin said.

Gupta said he was surprised by the call to go to D.C., but pleased with the results.

"I was excited to meet in Washington, D.C., this morning with Dr. Tom Frieden, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Sen. Joe Manchin to discuss toxicological testing relating to the July 9 chemical spill," Gupta said. "Dr. Frieden committed to providing further surveillance measures based on findings of toxicological testing. The National Institute of Health committed to these tests during this morning's meeting. In addition, the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences also committed to continuing studies. After all these months, it's positive we are moving forward, particularly with developing independent studies which will give our citizens more confidence in their outcomes. I am glad Karen Bowling, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources, and Dr. Letitia Tierney, state health officer, were present, so we can have a unified front moving forward to solve this problem. I am also grateful to Sen. Manchin and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin for being persistent in seeking broad-ranging national solutions to the chemical spill problem."

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