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Some don't trust the water yet

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Eric Foster got the call last night. West Virginia American Water said the water at his South Charleston home is safe.

But that doesn't mean he's ready to use it again.

"The water smells like licorice, and I don't really think that's safe," Foster said. "I'll never drink it again."

Five days after a chemical spill into the Elk River left water unusable for 300,000 West Virginia American Water customers in nine counties, some residents are still wary of using the water even after officials say it's safe again.

Water company and state officials say the water consistently tested below 1 part per million of the chemical, and have been lifting the water-use ban zone by zone. Six zones, mostly in Charleston and South Charleston, had been lifted as of Tuesday evening.

Foster, and others, remain skeptical. Foster is still drinking from plastic water bottles. He doesn't wash with tap water or allow his children to. He bought 30 gallons of bottled water to bathe with instead.

"We flushed [the pipes] and it still smells," Foster said. "I have three kids. I don't think it's safe to bathe three kids in it."

West Virginia American Water officials say the odor in the water may linger, but the chemical levels in the areas are where the ban is lifted are below the health-risk level. State officials have said the safe level is below 1 part per million, and cited the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for that number. But CDC officials referred questions about how they arrived at that number to West Virginia American Water.

"With as much information as we have, understanding that we don't have a lot of information available, according to the West Virginia American Water, this is a safe level, and that is why the ban is being lifted," said Dr. Rahul Gupta, health officer for the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department.

Asked if he is drinking the water, Gupta said the do-not-use order has not yet been lifted in his neighborhood. He hasn't drank it at his downtown Charleston office either, he said, except for a sip he took during an interview with a local television station.

Gupta said he noticed an aftertaste but hasn't felt any negative effects from drinking it.

"I'm still kicking," he said.

Rose Oatridge, of Summit Drive on Charleston's West Side, got the call from the water company early Tuesday morning that her water would be safe to use again after she flushed out her system. Master plumber Gary Gibbs was helping her change the filters in the ice and water dispensers in her refrigerator Tuesday afternoon.

Oatridge said drinking the water wasn't a question for her. She prefers to drink flavored or spring water anyway.

"I've always liked spring water," Oatridge said. "It seems more natural."

She added that officials should keep better control of the chemicals that are stored around the water so a chemical leak doesn't happen again.

She will use the water for showers and washing dishes.

"I'm sure they've tested it and wouldn't let us use it unless it was almost completely clean," Oatridge said. "I don't think it will make us ill."

Charlie Myers got the call Tuesday morning that the water at his residence on the West Side was safe to use again. He's going to wait though, he said.

"I don't want to drink it," Myers said while he washed his car Tuesday afternoon. "We've got an ice maker and we won't use it for a good while. The ice still has got the smell to it."

He will use it for laundry though.

"I already did two loads of clothes in it," he said.

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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