CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- About one-third of the West Virginia American Water customers affected by a do-not-use water advisory had been told they can use their tap water as of Tuesday evening, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said Tuesday night.
Officials said there is still no timeline to completely restore water to everyone in the nine counties affected by the leak of a coal-processing chemical into the Elk River last week. About 300,000 residents were under the advisory at its peak.
The water company told residents in parts of Charleston and South Charleston that they could flush the pipes in their homes on Monday. But by Tuesday evening, just three more areas, all in Kanawha County, had been added to that list.
Testing teams with the West Virginia National Guard and the water company found a handful of areas where test results showed levels of Crude MCHM -- the chemical that leaked from the Freedom Industries plant into the Elk -- above the 1-part-per-million level that officials say they're using to declare the water safe, officials said.
State officials have said they're relying on the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for that number, but the CDC hasn't said how they arrived at that number and has referred questions back to the water company.
The water company is lifting the "do not use" ban by zones outward from its treatment facility in Charleston until it reaches the end of the system's lines. If one zone fails to show chemical levels below 1 part per million, it must be flushed by the water company and tested again before moving on to another zone.
"That causes frustration, because it's taking longer to get things done," said Gen. James Hoyer, adjutant general of the West Virginia National Guard. "What you don't want is one of these folks that would be in an area where the result was above 1 [ppm] to have bad water."
About 1,000 samples have been drawn from the 3,000-square-mile system, and more than 590 samples have been analyzed, Hoyer said. The more rural sample points become, the longer it takes for testing analysis to take place, Hoyer said.
"[The] EPA has told us that in order to ensure validation, that 40 percent of the samples that we take have to be validated by running dual samples," Hoyer said. That means that "two different labs give the same confirmatory results," he said.
Continuous monitoring at the water company's intake and outtake on the Elk River, a mile and a half from the chemical leak, shows the levels are "no detection" for Crude MCHM, according to Jeff McIntyre, president of West Virginia American Water.
The company has started to combine zones to create larger clusters for home system flushing, McIntyre said. Customers can find out the status of their zone by typing their address into an interactive map, a link to which is available at wvgazette.com. If customers still have questions about their zone, they can call a temporary hot line at 855-390-4569.