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Pediatrician: Young children shouldn't drink the water

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If pregnant women shouldn't drink the tap water until the chemical that spilled into it last week is gone, neither should small children, a pediatrician told the Kanawha Charleston Board of Health on Thursday.

Dr. Raheel Khan, of the West Virginia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, asked the health board at its regular meeting why a recommendation that pregnant women not drink the water while there are traces of Crude MCHM in it be extended to include children under 3 years old.

Small children drink proportionately more water than adults, said Khan, who is also an associate professor of pediatrics at the Charleston division of West Virginia University School of Medicine.

"The risk is that they might get more of the chemical as opposed to adults by proportion," Khan said. "Since the CDC came out with this recommendation for pregnant women ... shouldn't we be extending this precaution to younger kids who are equally vulnerable?"

Officials with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Protection came out with the recommendation that pregnant women not drink the water on Wednesday night, but said Thursday that recommendation was made out of an "abundance of caution," and that it did not apply to breastfeeding mothers, infants or children.

West Virginia American Water, using guidelines from the CDC, has lifted the "do-not-use" orders in zones after the levels of Crude MCHM -- the chemical spilled by Freedom Industries into the Elk River last week -- fell below 1 part per million.

Dr. Rahul Gupta, health officer for the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, said Thursday he would call state health officials who are in contact with CDC officials and ask them about Khan's recommendation.

"We have concerns about all our vulnerable populations and ... [Dr. Khan's recommendation] definitely makes sense," Gupta said. "The question is, has that been looked into? Has that been factored in?"

Khan said breast milk is mostly filtered and is less of a concern than infant formula mixed with the water.

"Without having any scientific evidence, we are using sort of a educated guess based on that," Khan said. "A lot of things are filtered out [of breast milk] and breast milk should be a little bit safer for the newborn babies. But a lot of these babies are not breastfeeding, they're getting formula mixed with water, so that is my main concern."

South Charleston resident Jeremy Parsons asked health board members if they could deviate from the CDC's advice and recommend that people discontinue use of the water until levels of the chemical are lower. He cited the numerous reported emergency room visits that have followed the water use bans being lifted.

"Obviously from what we're seeing, 1 part per million does not seem to be a safe threshold," Parsons told the health board.

Gupta is advising people to make their own decisions when it comes to whether or not to drink the water. He said some people's adverse reactions may not be due to the chemical's toxicity, but rather to an allergic reaction, or a reaction to the odor of the chemical.

In other business, the health board also passed a resolution supporting state legislation that would make pseudoephedrine products available only by prescription. A Kanawha County substance abuse task force, as well as a similar state group, recommended the measure to cut down on methamphetamine labs. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin did not mention the measure in his State of the State address last week.

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


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