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Expectant moms worry about tainted water

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Monica Wieland had been very careful not to do anything that could potentially harm her unborn son.

Wieland, 41, of Charleston, is seven months' pregnant with her first child, a little boy she'll call Nicholas, due in late March.

She's avoiding certain foods. She also doesn't wear makeup or use medicated lotions or shampoos because of potential chemical exposure. She opts for as many natural health and beauty products as she can.

Since the chemical spill last week into the Elk River and the West Virginia American Water supply lines, she hasn't been drinking tap water, either. According to a recent advisory from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health, that's a good thing.

Wednesday evening, two days after the first residents got the all-clear to begin using their tap water after the chemical spill, the CDC and BPH issued a statement recommending to pregnant women that "out of an abundance of caution," they should drink bottled water until the levels of "Crude MCHM" are not detectable in the water anymore.

"I was a little bit alarmed for the ladies who maybe had started drinking it," Wieland said. "Some have had it back for two days. My concern was, well they don't know enough about the chemical. Is it safe to eat off a dish that's been washed in it or eat food that's been made with it?"

Although she hasn't been drinking the water, she's been to restaurants since the ban was lifted. Now she's also concerned about eating from dishes washed in the water and using it to shower.

"I had been doing everything by the books and made huge efforts to make sure everything is good," Wieland said, "and [this is] out of my control completely."

Because she has gestational diabetes, water is just about the only thing Wieland has been drinking, she said. Just hours before the "do not use" order was put in place a week ago, Wieland drank two glasses of tap water at a restaurant, she said.

"I was already freaking out a little bit," she said.

Will using the water have negative effects for unborn babies? No one seems to know. According to a list of frequently asked questions presented by the BPH and the CDC, there are no known studies that show that drinking water with MCHM below 1 part per million can harm a fetus.

The CDC and BPH say it's safe for pregnant women to use the tap water for cooking.

Still, Danielle Grant, who's six months' pregnant with a little girl, isn't taking any chances. Grant lives in Mason County and hasn't been affected by the water situation at her home, but her workplace, Buffalo High School, has.

"I'm not going to eat at fast-food restaurants or other restaurants there, even though they've been reopened by the health department, because I believe a lot of them have been cooking with the water," Grant said. "So I'm going to take the extra precautions that way."

The CDC and the BHP also say there's no information to suggest bathing with the water might cause harm or that breastfeeding after consuming the water is harmful.

The FAQ also says baby formula made from the water is safe but that parents of children with special needs, like those born prematurely, should check with a physician before using it in formula.

Dr. Stephen Bush, an OB-GYN at Women and Children's Hospital, said he has not been bombarded with calls from concerned patients. Many of them were already choosing not to drink the tap water, he said.

"I would reassure [pregnant women] that the chemical is in such low concentrations and there's very little chance it would cause any problems with the baby, by the information we have," Bush said. "We need to reassure, rather than try to cause hysteria."

Bush said, if a toxin did cause problems with unborn babies, depending on the toxin, it could be worse during early pregnancy.

"One would think, if it would affect something, it would be worse in the first trimester, which is when the baby is going through major development," he said.

Bush point out that, according to the CDC and BPH, there's no information to suggest that women who breastfeed shouldn't drink the water.

"We have to go with what the CDC has said -- that, with low concentrations, there shouldn't be any concerns with breast milk," Bush said. "They have no information there's any harm in breast feeding. That's not my statement, that's CDC and the DHHR."

Bush said he would not advise his pregnant patients to avoid showering in the water. It's unlikely the water from the shower would harm an unborn baby.

"If any harm is done, it would be to the woman taking the shower. They may have a rash or another skin reaction," Bush said. "It shouldn't affect the baby."

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


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