Last 'do-not-use' zones lifted
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As the final areas of West Virginia American Water's "do-not-use" advisory were lifted Friday, a week after the water ban was first issued, some Fayette County residents were worried that water from the company's tainted Charleston-based system ended up in their creek.
WVAW trucks emptied their tanks into a creek there Thursday, but a water company spokeswoman said residents in Smithers should not be concerned.
The company pulled its water tankers out of service in Kanawha County Thursday evening after receiving complaints that the water being distributed to residents had the same odor as the chemical-tainted water from last week's Freedom Industries leak into the Elk River.
The tankers had been filling with water near the Charleston location, where zero-ppm levels of the chemical "Crude MCHM" were recorded, said water company spokeswoman Laura Jordan. She confirmed Friday that tanker water was dumped into a creek near Smithers. On Thursday, she said the tankers would be filled with water from outside the Charleston system.
WVAW workers apparently emptied the suspect water into a creek in Smithers before refilling with new water from the company's distribution center in Montgomery. The water dumped into the Smithers creek had been tested, Jordan said, and it did not test for Crude MCHM, a coal-cleaning chemical also known as 4-methylcyclohexane-methanol.
Smithers Mayor Tom Skaggs said he called the water company's Montgomery distribution center Friday, after several people complained about the dumping. Several residents, including a town councilwoman, called him after seeing tanker trucks near the creek, Skaggs said.
He said that, based on the assurances from WVAW, he's not worried about the water dumped into the creek.
"It would have to go down the river and several millions of gallons a minute are running into Montgomery," Skaggs said. "If it's zero parts per-million, then it shouldn't do any harm."
Several water trucks have been refilling tanks since last week at a hydrant near the corner of Michigan Avenue and Bridge Street in Smithers, he said. No one at the distribution center knew of any dumping.
"They are filling trucks up right now, as we talk," he said Friday afternoon.
Jordan said the tankers now are being filled with water only from areas outside Charleston.
"We want to make sure we are getting it from a reliable source," she said. "We didn't want to add an extra cause for concern."
The last sections of the water company's do-not-use advisory, issued the evening of Jan. 9, were given the OK to begin flushing the pipes in their homes and businesses Friday afternoon.
Residents in the Buffalo, Fraziers Bottom and Pliny areas of Putnam County, however, were told Friday morning not to drink their water and to "have limited contact" with it, after earlier being approved to flush their pipes.
Jordan said she does not anticipate any more "limited contact" orders being issued unless testing proves otherwise.
Some water company customers were told to boil their water, because everyone flushing their pipes at the same time drained water storage tanks.
An advisory was issued for 300 customers in the Cross Lanes, Nitro Market Place and Nitro areas. The specific areas included New Goff Mountain Road, Greyhound Drive, Lakeview Drive, Nitro Boulevard, Prosperity Place, and included Nitro Market Place and Mardi Gras Casino and Resort.
Another boil-water advisory was issued for 1,000 customers in the Sissonville area. The specific streets included in the advisory were: 7600 block of Sissonville Drive (W.Va. 21) to Allens Fork Road; Haines Branch Road; Allens Fork Road; Poca River Road, from W.Va. 21 to Cicerone Star Route; Aarons Fork Road, from Cicerone Route to Flowers Hollow; and Whiteman's Fork.
WVAW discontinued its temporary hotline, set up to answer questions about the do-not-use advisory, Friday afternoon. The main customer-service line, 1-800-685-8660, remains open 24 hours a day, according to the company.
Kanawha County officials said they would keep water-distribution sites open through the weekend. Bulk water will be available Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Crossings Mall in Elkview, Riverside High School and the Clendenin Volunteer Fire Department. Bottled water also will be available there and at the Nitro Police Department, the Marmet Recreation Center, on F Street next to Gestamp in South Charleston and at the Sissonville and Glasgow VFDs.
Jordan said WVAW will run tests until readings for the chemical that tainted the Elk River last week show zero parts per billion, a spokeswoman said.
The company has been testing every day for Crude MCHM at 1-part-per-million, a safe drinking standard set by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In the initial response to the incident, federal officials indicated that "flushing the system" could "require a fairly prolonged time to complete [2-3 wks]," according to an incident summary dated Jan. 11 and posted on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's website.
Jordan said late Friday that she previously had not seen that estimate and that it did not come from her company or "any of our interagency partners."
"There are a variety of factors that contribute to the amount of time it takes to fully flush water through the system, including water usage, human resources to carry out structured flushing, and even the amount of leaks," Jordan said.
Jordan said the company and state officials agreed that their goal was reaching water concentrations in all areas that are less than the CDC's emergency screening level of 1 part per million.
"We did not estimate a time frame," Jordan said. "Under the new CDC guidance that came out two days ago regarding pregnant women, we are and will continue this sampling and testing process until we can report that the chemical cannot be detected in the water anywhere in the system.
"This may take days or weeks."
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., sent a letter to WVAW President Jeff McIntyre on Friday, asking for more information about the water company's testing procedures. Rockefeller said he is concerned about reports that levels of the chemical had risen in areas where the water previously had been declared safe and asked what steps the water company is taking to further protect the public from unsafe water.
Staff writer Rusty Marks and Ken Ward Jr. contributed to this report.
Reach Travis Crum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5163.