West Virginia

Advocacy Organizations and the Water Crisis: People Concerned About Chemical Safety

In this video, we hear from Maya Nye of People Concerned about Chemical Safety (PCACS), an organization that was and still is an integral player in advocacy for communities affected by the West Virginia Water Crisis. PCACS was founded over 25 years ago to protect the health of Kanawha Valley, where there is a high concentration of chemical plants producing highly toxic chemicals. I learned about PCACS by working on the water crisis with their incredibly inspiring Executive Director, Maya Nye. Really, every time I think about the work she does, I am humbled.

You’ll also learn about Maya’s initial response to the West Virginia Water Crisis of January 9, 2014, which is informed by both her academic background in environmental studies and her experience of living through several chemical disasters in the Kanawha Valley. You’ll learn about the work that PCACS and other organizations did in the immediate aftermath of the chemical spill, and the legislative work they continue to do to fight for the enforcement of environmental/health and safety laws and regulations that are meant to protect you.

I hope you check out this very important interview. I condensed it from an hour and a half of great footage to only 23 minutes of the very best. So kick back with your tea, coffee, or water, watch this West Virginia Water Crisis story and maybe take a moment of gratitude that you can enjoy your drink without fear of chemical exposure (hopefully).

West Virginia Water Crisis Film Excerpt

This is the work-in-progress excerpt from my film on the West Virginia Water Crisis that I showed at the West Virginia International Film Festival on May 13, 2014.

*Caption titled “natural disaster” should read “national disaster.”

Although the majority of my footage for the film is of individual citizen’s responses to the crisis, I chose Dr. Andrew Whelton as the sole narrator for this piece because I felt that his story made for a more cohesive and in-depth narrative for such a short excerpt of the film. Dr. Whelton and his research team came unsolicited and unfunded from the University of South Alabama to test the effects of the contaminated water on plumbing systems in affected residents’ homes. As you will see from this clip, their perspectives and understandings of the crisis evolved and forced their work to evolve as well.

At the end of the clip, Dr. Whelton offers a perspective on who is responsible for the botched response to the water crisis that may be surprising to some. I know it certainly was for me. I think it’s important to remember that we all have different perspectives to offer on this, and that this is just one of those perspectives. However, I think Dr. Whelton’s message about who is responsible for the poor communication following the chemical spill instructs us all to take a broader view of the systemic inequalities that contributed to these problems.

It’s also important to know that made this clip for a West Virginia audience, so there is some footage that requires insider knowledge. For example, the last clip of the protest is located at the Governor’s Mansion and is paired with the audio narrative about Dr. Whelton’s meeting with the governor.

I would like to thank the WVIFF, the sponsors for the event, and the other filmmakers for their dedication and creativity that is so clearly evident in their films. I also would like to thank Dr. Whelton and all of the participants in this film, as well as the National Science Foundation for providing a grant that made this film possible. And, of course, I would like to thank my friends, family, professors, and the people of West Virginia for supporting me and inspiring me to keep going on this project.

Ultimately, I hope that my film can help improve communication between the scientific community, public officials responding to crises, and the people on the ground experiencing the crises. We all have a lot to learn about how to deal with events like this and there is a desperate need for us to start being proactive to prevent them from happening in the future.

Full Footage of the WVTAP Public Meeting on 3.28

 

This footage covers the entirety of the WV TAP Public Meeting on 3.28 (with the exception of the first few seconds of the introductory speech).

There were two main parts of the meeting: the presentations by the WV TAP team at the beginning and the Q&A session with the public, which starts at 1:46.

Please share this widely, as many people were not able to attend, and the media covered so little of the content of the meeting.

This work is subject to copyright and may not be altered, shared without attribution to the owner and copyright holder, Krista Bryson, or used for monetary gain. If shared, it must be through the link to this Youtube video. Write Krista Bryson at wvwatercrisis@gmail.com for further permissions.

As always, thanks for viewing and sharing!

Look at What You Helped Do!

I received nearly $300 in donations from several generous online donors to buy water, paper towels, and other supplies for people affected by the West Virginia Water Crisis. It was a great day, and I hope I can keep coming back with more for water for people who need it.

Yes, many people affected by the WV Water Crisis still aren’t drinking the water. Yes, it’s getting expensive for them. Yes, you can help.

To learn more about why people are still afraid to drink the water, read my previous post.

If you would like to donate, go to http://www.wvwatercrisis.com/waterdistribution and click on my PayPal link.

This video is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial 4.0 International License: http://www.creativecommons.org/licenses

West Virginia Water Seven Weeks Later

Newsweek Article

Today marks seven weeks since what the National Science Foundation is calling one of the biggest environmental disasters of the last decade occurred in my home state of West Virginia. Too many things have happened since Freedom Industries polluted our water to cover in this post, but there are a few things that are important for you to know now. The Newsweek article I was interviewed for explains some of those things, but this post is going to focus on two of those points and give you some actionable steps to help West Virginians who are still suffering.

#1 Thing to Know: West Virginians are still not drinking, bathing in, or cleaning with their tap water. Imagine seven weeks of showering, cooking, and washing your dishes with only bottled water. Imagine the cost. Imagine the inconvenience. Imagine the mental space this must take up. Imagine the emotional toll of constant fear and worry.

Why? Because people are still experiencing rashes, swelling, diarrhea, vomiting, and faintness from the coming into contact with the water and the fumes. Because people still fear the water and distrust official messages about water safety because of a series of egregious missteps by the state government and health officials, which includes but is not limited to:

1) allowing a gap of at least eight hours before the leak occurred and the public was notified

2) lifting the Do Not Use Order and then stating that pregnant women should not drink the water

3) drawing contaminated water into water buffaloes for emergency distribution in the affected counties

4) establishing a level of safe contamination at 1 parts per million, based on studies of the effects of other chemicals on rats

5) telling the public that their use of the water is at their own discretion and refusing to comment on whether it is actually “safe”

6) canceling public schools, re-opening some schools, and then sending children back home  because students and teachers were passing out from the water fumes

7) discovering a second chemical and possibly several others present in the spill that were not reported to the public until twelve days after the spill

8) revealing that the storage tanks at the chemical plant had only been inspected by the DEP three times in twenty years and that the storage tanks were not subject to any governmental regulations

9) giving residents arbitrary (and dangerous) flushing instructions

10) allowing Freedom Industries to declare bankruptcy and be refinanced by a “different” owner of an eerily similar name as the previous owner

11) refusing to test water in homes in a high profile press conference and then deciding two hours after the press conference to consider testing water in homes

Currently, neither the state nor the federal government are supplying water to those affected by the chemical spill. The state refuses to dip into its multi-million dollar emergency fund and FEMA denied the governor’s request to continue providing water and other emergency relief to West Virginia.

Actionable Step:

Donate! This is the easiest way to immediately help West Virginians. There are many ways to donate, including going through the West Virginia Clean Water Hub. I am also collecting donations through PayPal for purchasing water and supplies to deliver every time I go to WV to film.

#2 Thing to Know: West Virginians will no longer accept violations of their health and safety by industry. After decades of tolerating ongoing air and water pollutionchemical spills, and industrial explosionsWest Virginians are refusing to ignore further violations of their health and safety in exchange for a barely surviving extraction economy.

There is a short piece about this in the Newsweek article, “For much of Bryson’s life in West Virginia, she says many locals viewed these dangers as “their cross to bear.” But since the Freedom Industries spill, “I have seen such a dramatic shift. We see now how this influences our life.””

Maybe in the past most of us were not immediately affected by these disasters. Those of us who don’t live in a mining town and didn’t personally know the people dying in explosions and collapses are removed enough that we never felt the need to DO anything. Those of us who were raised in the Chemical Valley were used to being constantly poisoned just enough that we didn’t really have to deal with it in our daily lives (until we get cancer or some other disease, but then we can’t attribute it directly to pollution). But when 300,000 people can’t drink or use their water, we have to think about it. We’re confronted head-on with years of our own individual neglect and the government and industry’s systematic abuse of West Virginia’s environment and people. And now we’re doing things.

Actionable Steps:

Share information. Without information we have nothing. Share the individual stories from this site, share news articles, and share information about how to donate, how to protest, how to lobby.

Make your voice heard in the state legislature. West Virginia Citizen Action Group is one organization that is doing great things in response to the water crisis: lobbying, protests, rallies, vigils, and activist training sessions. Friends of Water is another. There are legislative hearings happening as I write this that need your involvement and input. Even if you can only copy and paste a form letter provided by one of these organizations, do it. Every action is immensely important.

Keep coming back here for more stories. You can subscribe to this blog, follow me on Twitter @klbryson, or follow me on Facebook.

Share your story. If you want to write a story or do a video interview with me, email me at wvwatercrisis@gmail.com.

How to Engage People in Critical Dialogue about the Water Crisis

If you’re interested in how to engage people who are resistant to being critical of the coal or chemical industries in West Virginia in conversations about the Water Crisis, this is the video for you. My dear friend and mentor Dr. Roxanne Aftanas speaks about the rhetoric of coal and chemical industries in West Virginia and her view on the Water Crisis. An Arkansas native, Roxanne has a unique outsider/insider perspective. After living and teaching here for nearly a decade, she offers her take on how she gets her students to think critically about the industrial economy in West Virginia and what it has or hasn’t done for them. She asks them, if coal keeps the lights on, where’s the money? She also speaks about the effect of the coal industry on education as she has observed as a university professor and as a parent.

I filmed this just a few days after the chemical spill occurred, so the way people are now responding has certainly evolved since then. But there are still so many people who are unwillingly to be critical of the industries that “sustain” West Virginia and are killing West Virginians and destroying our environment. Roxanne’s interview serves as an example of how we can engage more critical dialogues with those who are resistant.

I’m returning to West Virginia this weekend to film. If you have contacted me about doing an interview and I haven’t gotten back to yet, please don’t think I’ve forgotten you! I will be in touch soon. Everyone’s story is important and I will do my best to get to all of you who have so generously offered to tell me yours.

*None of the opinions featured in this interview  reflect those of Marshall University.

Returning to WV to Film for the Documentary

Image

Hi friends!

I’ll be filming the water crisis again for this blog and my documentary this weekend (Saturday Feb. 15-Monday Feb. 17). Please let me know if you would like to be interviewed on your feelings about the water crisis, would like to show me your water and/or allow me to film in your home, or know anyone else who would like to do so. Please email me at wvwatercrisis@gmail.com.

I would appreciate you sharing this information and considering contributing your story because everyone’s story is important.

It is the stories of individuals, people suffering from the water crisis, that are the least told in the media coverage of this event. Yet these are the most important stories, the stories that inspire change.

Please consider sharing your story.

I know I have been absent here on the blog lately, but that’s because I’ve been back in Columbus teaching, writing my dissertation, and working non-stop on some big things for the water crisis. I can’t wait to reveal the news, but I still have to wait a bit longer before I do.

Here are some things I’ve been working on that I can tell you about:

I’m also still working on the water and supply drive at OSU, accepting donations online here, and will have an update on that soon. This is a big undertaking because of the scale and bureaucracy at OSU, but I am doing my best.

I was so proud and happy yesterday when Governor Tomblin announced that Dr. Andrew Whelton will be heading up the in-home water testing and research. I have been working with Dr. Whelton from the beginning of the water crisis to spread the word about water safety in homes and put my trust in his research and true compassion for West Virginia.

You can read my interview with Aljazeera America in “Obama’s failure to mention the water crisis disappoints West Virginians.”

I was also asked to be the new activist blogger on Hillbilly Speaks.

I’m still tweeting the #WVWaterCrisis. Follow me @klbryson.

Thank you all again for your support in getting the word out about fundraising, promoting the blog, and sharing your stories.

 

Water and Supply Drive in Columbus, Ohio

Water at a Distribution Site in WV

I am so happy to announce that I am working with Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural & Environmental Sciences School of Environment & Natural Resources, Lauren Bates, and several others to organize a water and supply drive for the people affected by the West Virginia Water Crisis.

The state is no longer distributing safe, clean water even though we just learned that the water not only contains MCHM and PPH but formaldehyde, a carcinogen. You can view the most up-to-date news on the crisis here:

www.wchstv.com

www.wvgazette.com

You can view the video footage from the most recent water crisis Town hall meeting here (scroll to the bottom to view the footage in nine parts). I found Part 3 especially telling of the most recent and frightening developments.

Once we have supply drop-off locations and dates confirmed, I will update this post. I am also creating a static page so you can access this information from the main menu of this blog.

Supplies we will be collecting include but are not limited to bottled water, either by gallons or cases; baby wipes; dry shampoo; paper plates and napkins, plastic utensils; and baby formula.

Water and supplies will be distributed at the Winfield Quick Stop Sunoco Station in Winfield, WV (Putnam County).

Current needs:

To take the water and supplies back to WV, we need a UHaul truck or trailer. If anyone has access to a truck or trailer, and would like to allow us to borrow it for the drive, please contact me, Krista Bryson by messaging me here or emailing me at wvwatercrisis@gmail.com.

We will also need gas money. I will be traveling down in my own personal vehicle using my own money, but I do ask for support for fueling the large truck hauling the water. We will need at least $500 dollars if we rent the largest UHaul truck and buy gas to get to WV. Any money raised that does not go towards truck rental and gas, I will use to buy more supplies. I will also do a blog post with photographs of the receipts for accountability.

Please Donate by clicking on the PayPal link below.

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_donations&business=89N86X7PQJTZG&lc=US&item_name=West%20Virginia%20Water%20Crisis%20Relief%20Fund&currency_code=USD&bn=PP%2dDonationsBF%3abtn_donateCC_LG%2egif%3aNonHosted

The Truth about Water in West Virginia

The Winfield Locks and Dams

Over the last few weeks, West Virginians have been enmeshed in a water disaster that has become more and more devastating with each revelation of information about the chemicals spilled, the amount of chemicals spilled, the neglect of Freedom Industries and government regulatory agencies, and the blind-eye turned on us by most of the national media. To many the water crisis is “over” and was never really as significant as we make it out to be. According to them West Virginians should just go back to business as usual. But we know from hundreds of accounts of everything from (for now) minor illnesses, to protracted hospital stays, to the possibility of long-term health repercussions caused by the contaminated water; the severe economic devastation that even our governor now acknowledges and desperately pleads the federal government to save us from; and from the emotional trauma many of us experience as a result of the chemical spill, that this crisis is not over.

During the two weekends I spent filming in West Virginia (more to come, I promise), I experienced what some may call serendipitous encounters and overlaps with my own work and the work and lives of others. I don’t call it serendipity. I call it the inevitable revelation of a state and a people and an environment at the zenith of its tipping point. In one Facebook forum, I came across a plea from a woman in McDowell County, WV , whose family had been without water for six straight days (now 12 days, as she has informed me). I immediately contacted her and spoke with her husband for over an hour about what caused them to be without water for so long. When they spoke of being without water, they were not speaking of being without clean water, but of being without water at all. Unlike those affected by the water crisis, they do not receive water from the state or federal government.

In this town in McDowell County, the water pumps are often non-functioning and are not maintained. Moreover, the money to maintain these pumps is either not there or is being withheld by town officials, in direct and admitted defiance of state regulations requiring them to provide water to the people of this small town, a people that continue to pay a water bill for water they don’t receive. This is not an isolated incident. The resident I spoke with about this ongoing problem didn’t have water for three months over the summer. After calling and writing officials all over the state of West Virginia about this problem he has experienced since moving to the town fifteen years ago, he has gotten zero results. The absolute horror that I felt listening to this family and community’s story is undoubtedly infinitesimal in comparison to what they experience daily. I promised I would do something to help, and this is a start to fulfilling that promise.

The kismet of all of this is that I recently hosted a documentary screening at Ohio State with Elaine McMillion, the director of Hollow: An Interactive Documentary, which tells the stories of residents of McDowell County. I watched Hollow when it was released this past summer on West Virginia Day, and spent some time with Elaine at the CreateWV conference. So even before speaking with residents of McDowell, I was already very familiar with the fact that water in McDowell County was not safe to drink or cook with. Elaine told me that when she lived in McDowell while filming for several months in 2012, residents insisted she not drink the water.

After devastating floods in 2001, McDowell County residents formed the Wastewater Treatment Coalition of McDowell County to investigate how the flood may have damaged their water supply. What they found is that 67% of the county’s water was not treated. That means the drinking water in McDowell County contains raw sewage. Elaine contacted me this morning to offer me permission to repost the following video from Hollow, which shows the beautiful wildlife in McDowell that persists despite destruction of their ecosystem. Notice that the fisherman in the video catches and releases the fish because they are not safe to eat due to the water’s contamination. To experience more stories of life in McDowell, visit the documentary here, best viewed using Google Chrome. If you don’t have Chrome or a fast internet connection, you can watch the videos individually here.

Clearly, water quality and even access to water are much bigger problems in West Virginia than we are led to believe by the government’s treatment and the media’s coverage of the most recent chemical spill. In fact, they are more than problems, they are devastations — of resident’s daily lives and health, the local and state economy, and the environment.

I used to become outraged and defensive when outsiders compared West Virginia to a third world country, but I can no longer do that with any conviction. What I can say to people who blame West Virginians, arguing that if West Virginians want better water, a better government, a better economy, they should take responsibility, is that you have obviously never talked to the people who are suffering. They have fought and continue to fight a political system that is beyond corrupt, is beyond reprehensible, is beyond fixing. How they persist despite the constant dismissals by a government that is supposed to protect them, I’ll never know. But this persistence, while noble, should not be an ideal to romanticize. It should be unnecessary. It is our responsibility to make it unnecessary.

What I plan to do over the next few weeks and months is to expose that corruption through those who know it best. If you have information you think is important or would pertain to this in any way, please send it directly to me, Krista Bryson at wvwatercrisis@gmail.com. Please also email if you wish to be interviewed, either on-camera or off, anonymously or not. The more voices we can lend to this story, the more people will see this problem for its true magnitude.

The only chance we have in this fight is to fight together.

Your Questions Answered: Flushing Recommendations, Water and Water Systems Safety, and Health Concerns

Dr. Whelton standing in a basement beside a hot water heater.

January 25, 2014

Dear Residents Affected by the Water Crisis,

My research team has received over 20 e-mail messages and telephone calls from you in the last week regarding the West Virginia Water Crisis. At the end of this post, you can read some of those messages, which demonstrate the great need, gratitude, and sadly, fear that many of you are experiencing. Because the number of these messages exceeds our ability to respond quickly, we have compiled a list of the 10 most commonly asked questions below. Please contact us if you have other questions not answered below. Ms. Krista Bryson, a Ph.D. candidate at Ohio State University also contributed to this information. Ms. Bryson worked with us to put together a “how to flush your plumbing system” video and the below information.

This flood of questions from residents brings to light the importance of having credible, trustworthy, and transparent scientists and engineers involved in a disaster response of this magnitude. Please feel free to ask any other questions and check back at our website for updates on our drinking water testing results conducted on water found inside the homes of those in affected areas. We recognize there is still a great need for answers in West Virginia and will do everything in our power to come back to West Virginia in about one month to conduct further testing.

Sincerely,
Andy Whelton, Ph.D.
University of South Alabama

[For maximum distribution, this information is also posted on The Whelton Group website]

The 10 Most Commonly Asked Questions from Residents Affected

by the West Virginia Drinking Water Crisis Answered

1. Should I flush my plumbing system if I have not yet done so? I have heard there are individuals advising residents not to flush their plumbing systems at all.

My advice, as an environmental engineer with experience designing and troubleshooting water systems and plumbing materials, is to flush your plumbing system immediately. However, do not use the exact flushing guidance endorsed by the West Virginia Bureau of Health. Instead, use the modified guidance we issued in response to chemical exposure reports of those who followed the West Virginia Bureau of Health guidance.

Flushing is critical to your plumbing system because the longer you allow the contaminated water to sit stagnant, the more problems your building may experience. Chemicals may break down and transform into more or less toxic compounds, pipes could be damaged by water contact, and plumbing materials could be permeated by those chemicals and other compounds. Disease causing organisms can also begin to grow and take up residence in your pipes. There are many more potential consequences. Unfortunately, there is little information available to describe the consequences of allowing your plumbing system to sit idle with the specific contaminated drinking water that affected your community.

2. How should I flush my plumbing system?

Step 1. Shut-off your hot water heater. Let that water cool down. Chemicals will evaporate faster into your building from hot water than from cold water.

Step 2. Open all exterior windows and doors to ventilate your building, BEFORE you start flushing. Find your floor fans and position them so that any air near the faucets, bathrooms, etc. can be pushed outside. If you have limited fans, try to flush one faucet at a time. You want to get the chemical odor out of your house when you flush. If one of your drains is clogged or drains slowly, do not stand inside that room while flushing. Check back frequently so that you do not let the water overflow.

Step 3. Flush your hot water faucets using the West Virginia Bureau of Health endorsed guidance. Remember, you should have shut off your hot water heater.

Step 4. Flush your cold water faucets using the West Virginia Bureau of Health endorsed guidance.

You will note that Steps 3 and 4 are similar to the guidelines endorsed by the West Virginia Bureau of Health. Steps 1 and 2 were not and have not been mentioned by the Bureau of Health to date. However, Steps 1 and 2 are important to limit chemicals from accumulating in your house during flushing.

You may have rooms that do not have working overhead fans, doors, or windows. For those rooms you want to make certain when the faucets are flushed that you have set up floor or nearby window fans to remove the contaminated air. Flush the water and flush-out that air.

If you live in a building that does not allow you access to your hot water heater, contact the building owner. They would be responsible for the hot water heater and could tell you when they last flushed it. If you still have questions contact a representative of the West Virginia Bureau of Health.

3. If my neighbors don’t flush at all or only flush once, will the contaminated water ever get out of the water supply?

This question is complex. Flushing once is the West Virginia Bureau of Health’s recommendation. At some point, flushing should remove the chemicals that remain inside the water supply system. However, in 1980, a drinking water contamination incident required 9 months of flushing to remove the chemical from water pipes buried below the ground. It is possible that the chemicals inside Charleston West Virginia’s drinking water system will require 9 months to flush out. The key is for researchers to determine where the chemical remains, if it degraded, how it interacted with the plumbing systems, and how much remains at drinking water taps inside houses. We are not aware of any data that predicts exactly how long it will take to remove the chemicals from the affected drinking water system.

4. How many residents haven’t flushed their plumbing systems?

Today, I’m not certain. On Monday, January 20 the West Virginia Governor’s office did not know either. Of the people we interviewed in the affected area (January 17-22), 7 out of 10 had not flushed their plumbing system. Other residents told us they “partially” flushed and hoped to get around to finishing their flush soon. All people we spoke with lived in all different areas of Charleston and had varying income levels. Today, I found out that one resident has not flushed his plumbing system at all, leaving the contaminated water stagnant in their plumbing for 17 days.

To determine how many buildings still contain contaminated water inside their plumbing systems, West Virginia officials could mobilize the National Guard or staff from another government agency to go door-to-door and determine who has and has not flushed their plumbing system. Our interviews and the emails we continue to receive indicate that there are still individuals who have not flushed, and have no intention of flushing. Because the public health and plumbing system integrity consequences of not flushing are simply unknown, this is a concern for everyone.

5. Who is responsible for making sure everyone has flushed their systems? What should they be doing to ensure our safety?

It is the responsibility of the West Virginia Bureau of Health to ensure that the plumbing systems and the water inside resident’s homes are safe. We know this because when you make building plumbing system modifications, you must obtain a permit from them and their inspectors check to make certain everything is up to code.

So far, there has been little to no drinking water testing inside homeowner residences by the West Virginia Bureau of Health. Most of the drinking water testing has been carried out at fire hydrants (that convey cold water and empty into well-ventilated areas, much different from the flushing procedures they recommended for residents) and government buildings. Understanding chemical levels in fire hydrants is certainly important because that water would eventually make its way into resident homes. But, simply testing fire hydrants assumes that drinking water quality in plumbing systems and hydrants is the same. That assumption has not been proven.

No one from the West Virginia Bureau of Health is monitoring chemical levels inside the resident’s homes from what we gathered from our interviews, continued discussions with government officials, and nonprofits who are still distributing bottled water.

My personal discussions with a few federal officials tangentially involved in the handling of the water crisis revealed that the interaction between the chemicals and the plumbing system had not been considered as of Wednesday, January 22. Because I told a few colleagues in the federal government to consider the plumbing system – chemical interaction issue and they agreed, it is now at least being discussed. If officials involved in this response do not have the expertise needed, they should engage folks like us who do.

Finally, there has been no timetable issued for how long is needed to remove the chemicals from the drinking water supply or how much flushing water per month is needed. From what I understand, that is because officials have not seriously investigated the issue of plumbing system contamination. I would have expected that by now this type of testing would be underway.

In response to resident questions about flushing, our research team has begun unfunded experiments in our laboratory to address these issues.

6. Would a new home filtration unit remove this chemical?

If the building plumbing system is contaminated, the installation of a home filtration system may not have much value in removing the 4-MCHM chemical or other chemicals within water before it entered the building. Parts or all of the existing plumbing system could require decontamination or replacement if chemical binding or permeation with the plumbing system materials is significant. Decontamination actions could simply include clean tap water flushing or could potentially be more complex. There is simply not enough public information available.

If the building plumbing system turned out not to be contaminated, but the incoming tap water was contaminated, some treatment devices, but not all, would be effective at removing the chemicals. These devices however would include long-term operation and maintenance costs. As a consumer, be aware that there are equipment vendors approaching the government and homeowners, selling water treatment devices in the wake of this event. It is your responsibility and in your best interest as a consumer to protect yourself by investigating any claims made by these vendors about their equipment’s ability to safeguard your water.

7. Despite the drinking water being declared safe to drink except for pregnant women and children under 3 years old, is it safe to cook with, drink, or bathe with?

I am not certain how to answer because critical drinking water quality data has not been published and there are many variables involved when it comes to the different ways people expose themselves and the ways different people react to the same chemicals. If officials do not have the scientific data to justify the “safe” declaration under the aforementioned conditions then they need to come out and declare this. Affected residents want to make the best decisions to protect their family. They want data and transparency.

8. Is it safe to do laundry or bathe with water from the affected areas? What if the person is pregnant?

To my knowledge, no data exists that describes whether or not the chemicals within the contaminated water bind to clothing or if those chemicals could then be released onto skin when clothes are worn.

The bathing issue raises several possible exposure routes including inhaling vapors, absorbing chemicals through the skin, and ingestion (accidental, as may happen with children in the bath). To my knowledge, no testing has been conducted inside affected homes.

For pregnant women and children under 3 years old, I recommend those persons follow the advice of the Centers for Disease (CDC) control for their contact with the water.

9. If children or adults are exposed to the water could they get cancer?

I defer to the public health community to provide advice here. Disease is a complex issue, and you should contact qualified medical professionals about these types of questions. The West Virginia Bureau of Health consists of credentialed medical professionals. As an Environmental Engineer I can describe chemical fate, breakdown, reactions with other compounds in the water, plumbing system materials, and air exposure levels, among other topics. I am not qualified to advise you on whether exposure to this chemical may cause cancer.

Clearly, it is difficult to find an answer to this question from anyone because government officials definition of “safe” and the medical community’s response to visits prompted by exposure to the contaminated water are not as transparent as they should be. This is partially because there is little known information on the health effects of exposure to this chemical, and simply the other chemicals that may be in the drinking water.

10. Will chemical levels in my home plumbing with plastic differ from my neighbors who have copper pipes?

We simply do not know because there is no data to answer this question. Officials have neglected to test drinking water within private homes wherein the residents would most likely be exposed to chemicals during water use. Instead, officials have mainly relied on fire hydrants and government buildings, not typically where residents take baths/showers, cook dinner, and brush their teeth, etc.

In my opinion, residents who live in buildings that have metal drinking water pipes will have very different experiences than residents who live in buildings that contain plastic drinking water pipes. During our visit (January 17-22) we inspected many indoor plumbing systems. Some were fully copper, cPVC plastic, PEX plastic, while others were a mixture of copper, iron, cPVC plastic, PEX plastic, and PB plastic materials. Based on our ongoing testing, we believe that plastics in the Charleston area have the potential to be permeated by some of the chemicals reported. The rate of permeation in Charleston residences however may be minimal for some plastics and greater for others. Metal plumbing systems typically become corroded and chemicals could interact with those surfaces. Lack of data pertaining to the contaminated water makes drawing any definitive conclusions difficult. If you are unsure about what type of pipes you have in your home, you can consult the paper one of our graduate students wrote regarding plastic pipes in houses across the US, here.

In response to the lack of information about plumbing systems, our research team has begun additional unfunded experiments in our laboratory to address these issues.

MEDICAL DISCLAIMER
For medical advice, please contact your family physician or another credentialed medical professional. I am a civil/environmental engineer who understands chemical fate, degradation, transport, water treatment, plumbing systems, and exposure routes. Medical professionals can best address questions regarding the consequences of chemical exposure and health. It is my impression the West Virginia Bureau of Public Health should operate in this capacity. However, I am not aware of any effort by that organization or State government to go door-to-door like our team did last week to address concerns raised by the affected residents.

SELECT MESSAGES FROM RESIDENTS

January 24, 2014: Hello, my name is [XXXXX], I am involved in the water contamination in WV. I have not been using the water and am very concerned about bathing my children in the water. I am pregnant and want to make safe choices for my family, I am just not sure what is safe. In your professional opinion, would it be safe to do laundry and bathe in the water? we don’t intend to cook with it nor drink it. Thank you so much

January 24, 2014: Hello! I just saw your video about the water crisis in WV. It was on a friend’s facebook page. I live in Charleston, WV with my husband and 2 children. I was born and raised here and am so thankful for your work! Are you still here? We are, now, hearing that another chemical was leaked along with the original one. We are also being told that the ppm thought to be safe is not actually safe. I flushed when we were told, but am still not using the water for drinking, cooking, or bathing. I feel there should be access to free bottled water until the chemicals are 0 ppm. It is so confusing and frightening. Will my children get cancer one day from all this? We still just don’t know who to trust and what to do!! Your video made me feel that you really care and that you actually might be able to give us accurate information.

January 24, 2014: Dr. Whelton, I appreciate your presence here and would love to meet with you if you have time to see if there is any way I can assist you. My interest is personal, not professional as I do not have (nor do I anticipate having) any clients involved …..

January 24, 2014: Good Morning Dr. Whelton, I have seen your video posted on youtube regarding the recent water crisis here in WV. In my opinion this is a tragic event that has the good people of WV paralyzed as we try to make the right decisions for our health and the health of our loved ones. I, personally have flushed my home twice, once by running the faucets as instructed by WVAW company…then as I thought more and more I decided to drain our hot water tank and flush out all of our pipes again. We still smell the licorice odor in our water. It may be a little better but, not much. I have talked to my neighbors some of which have not flushed at all and some who say they only flushed once and will not do any more. My question to you is if this continues and not everyone is flushing and/or continues to flush will this ever get out of our water supply? I would also like to ask your opinion on a entire home filtration system? (sand filter and such)..this will cost me quite a bit of money however, I DO NOT feel our water supply is safe for cooking or drinking as well as bathing my children in it. If you have the time to answer my questions I would be eternally grateful. Also, if I get a filtration for the entire home will it catch this type of chemical? [XXXXX] contact me about this situation.

January 23, 2014: Good evening Dr. Whelton, Thank you for the efforts you and your team of volunteers are devoting to effects of the chemical spill here in Charleston. Neither the water company not the government are offering any information about how the contaminant chemicals react with the plumbing and other materials with which they came in contact. When we flushed our plumbing a week ago a faintly greenish blue crystalline substance came out of our tub faucet.We immediately called the water company and reported the substance. We were told the water company would send someone out in 1 to 4 hours to take a sample. No one showed.

Four days later we got a phone call from a water company representative who identified himself as a chemist. He could not tell, nor would he speculate, what the crystalline substance might be. He could not tell us whether it was toxic or an irritant. At one point he speculated that the chemical could have reacted with the copper in our plumbing, but he would not offer any ideas as to what chemical reactions could have occurred. When I told him we had a right to know what potential hazards are presented by reactions between the contaminants and materials in our house he suggested that we have testing performed at our own expense.

Setting aside the insensitive and cavalier nature of his suggestion I would be glad to send you a sample of the crystalline substance for analysis. Can you and your team give us any idea as to what possible chemical reaction products, if any, may have resulted from the contamination?

Any information you can provide would be most welcome. We can’t get answers from the water company or the government entities involved in the aftermath of the spill. Given the lack of answers to our questions we are not drinking or cooking with the tap water, and are limiting our contact with it in bathing. Please help us understand what potential harmful exposure, if any, we may be facing as a result of chemical retains between the contaminants and our plumbing.

If there is anything we can do to assist you in your efforts please let us know. Very truly yours,

January 23, 2014: My name is [XXXXXX] and I live in Culloden, WV, the only area impacted in Cabell County by the chemical contamination of the Elk River. I have been in contact with [XXXXXXX] who advised us not to flush our system yet. I was listening to your interview today which was posted by one of my friends and you advise definitely to flush. We are sending samples to [XXXXXXX], of preflush, midflush and postflush samples. We were just waiting to gather all the new information about the PPH chemical that has now been made known to have leaked.

One of my concerns is the fact that during a normal flushing of fire hydrants, the water company advises us to flush the cold water until it runs clear and not use the hot water until the cold is clean. In this new instance, we are told to flush the hot water first by running the hot water for 15 mins. I have written and called WVAMW to find out what the difference is, but to date no one has contacted me and it has been over a week. Could you please advise which is the proper way to do this. My grandchildren come here every day after school (5 and 7 yrs of age) and I have a 15 month old grandson who also comes here, as well as my son and daughter-in-law who is pregnant. They also live in Culloden. My husband has had multiple operations for cancer and has to have another exploratory one, so we are indeed concerned.

If you could contact me with the information, it would be greatly appreciated.[XXXXXXX] If you would like to come to our home prior to our flushing and would like to take samples, that would be great. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and for coming to West Virginia to do research and help us during this crisis.

January 22, 2014: Andrew, good work in West Virginia. Good article! Elk River was a massive spill vs Camp LeJeune was a drip , drip , drip for 30+ years. As a Camp LeJeune Marine to you,… any advocacy and publicity about Camp LeJeune would be appreciated. I’ve written to many officials, elected, DOD VA ect.. with little effect. They have left the Marines on their own to die. Speak for us when you can. They will listen to you. [XXXXX]

January 21, 2014: Hello, fist things first. Thank you for coming to West Virginia. I would like to know your thoughts on my situation. I helped a neighbor flush his home as soon as the flush order was given. I found the opposite in my interactions with people. The people I spoke with seemed more hopeful that the flush would bring everything back to normal. I on the other hand think until all tanks and soil are removed from spill site it is not “normal”.

Upon flushing a home that had just been given the notice to flush I noticed the persistent sweet smell of the chemical. I took the opportunity to flush the hot water tanks in the home at this time as well. Ran the water for some time in all sinks and outside spigot. The whole time smelling the tainted water.

I waited a couple of days and flushed my home the same as the previous home. I did however notice along with the buildup in the hot water tank a blueish tinted substance. This came out of both hot water tanks. It is now 1/21/2014 and when I turn my water on I still smell the chemical in my water. I am not using the water for anything but flushing toilets.

Since our government SUCKS SO BAD I have never even been able to find a water tanker for bulk fresh water in the City of Charleston. This despite calling city, county and Nation Guard. Our government is the number one cause of this problem. They are the ONLY ones with the authority to have entered this facility and demand tank inspections and inquire about chemicals stored at the site. And to state the obvious…chemicals stored a mile or two upstream from water source??

Do you know what other chemicals are mixed in with the 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol? I have seen reports that 15 to 20 percent of the mixture are other types of chemicals. Lastly the 1 part per million. Do you believe that adding one drop of the chemical concoction to 13 gallons of water (I think this is roughly 1 to 1M) would really produce water that smelled so strongly of the chemicals? I just can not believe it would.

Thanks Again!

January 20, 2014: Thank you so much for helping us! It is terrible here, the state government is not being honest with us and is dismissing the adverse effects and sicknesses people are experiencing after using the water. We all know the water is not safe and we do not know what to do. BLESS YOU FOR YOUR HELP.

January 20, 2014: What about those homes owned by people who spend the winters in the south? If they have no plans to return until spring how will their contaminated lines affect everyone else’s

January 20, 2014: Yes, there’s a bit of misleading info out there. To be honest, I’m not even convinced that the water supply is even safe today, fully flushed system or not. Thankfully, I live in Virginia. My rural water supply comes from a well, and I’m on a mountain. When you consider that over 300,000 rural folks can’t have wells and have to have water piped in due to crap groundwater (poisoned by corporations), and then that piped in water is poisoned by the same corporations, it all makes you wonder if the water will ever be truly safe. I feel for the people of West Virginia right now.

January 20, 2014: I am a Boone County, WV Resident caught in the middle of the chemical debachle. Would like to know what the Oily residue is that is present in the water system AFTER Flushing?? I have yet to hear any comments on this from anywhere.

January 20, 2014: We were out of town when the spill happened and did not come home until 3 days later. When we arrived home, my husband shut off the water at the water meter so that none on the bad water could enter our lines. We have NOT used any of the water until this evening. We were told that the only line that we need to flush out is the outside faucet. Is this correct or do we need to flush out all of them?

January 20, 2014: Thank you all for coming here to help!