CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Although West Virginia American Water's "do-not-use" water advisory was lifted completely Friday, West Virginia Department of Education officials recommend that schools affected by last week's chemical leak use only bottled water through next week.
Department of Education spokeswoman Liza Cordeiro said the decision to serve only bottled water was made collectively among state officials and the superintendents of the nine counties affected by the "Crude MCHM" leak.
"It was definitely not a directive by the Department of Education; it was a collective conversation to say, 'Hey, we have bottled water -- how long do you want to continue to use it?'" Cordeiro said. "That is the plan, as of today -- bottled water for kids. That date may extend even further [than next week]. Every day things are evolving. This is an evolving crisis, and we're on the recovery side of it."
Schools in the counties affected by the leak into the Elk River at Charleston -- including Kanawha County, the state's largest -- have plenty of water to last them through next week, thanks to donations from the National Guard and other organizations, Cordeiro said.
The Department of Education is leaving the rest up to individual schools, putting decisions such as whether students should have access to tap water for hand washing, in the hands of local administrations.
"Our advice has been, from the start, for the local counties to work with their local health departments," Cordeiro said. "Our number-one piece of advice is to work with local health officials to make their decisions."
Sanitarians from local health departments have been inspecting schools since the chemical leak, making sure water systems have been properly flushed, equipment is rewashed with uncontaminated water, filters are replaced and ice machines and other appliances requiring water are emptied.
Kanawha and Boone county school officials said Friday they plan to use hand sanitizer, instead of soap and tap water, through next week. They said they have special menus planned that do not involve foods that require water, but neither county had a clear plan for water fountain or sink use.
"We followed all the protocol, we flushed and put water filters in. We haven't really discussed about bagging [the water fountains], but that's why the bottled water is there, so kids can use that if they want it," Kanawha County Superintendent Ron Duerring said. "We will have drinking water up until the end of the day Jan. 24, and we have worked very hard to meet all protocol."
While Kanawha and Boone schools were closed again Friday -- making six days missed because of the chemical leak -- most Putnam County students returned to school. The water ban was abruptly reissued Friday morning for areas encompassing Buffalo Elementary and Buffalo High, though, sending those students back home as soon as they arrived to school.
Water fountains were off limits in Putnam schools and restrooms were equipped with hand sanitizer, according to Karen Nowviskie, director of elementary education for Putnam schools.
"We chose to do that [ban water fountains]. It's like the situation at Buffalo -- it's too early for us to make any assumptions. Since we have the hand sanitizer and we have the bottled water, we're going to encourage that for today," Nowviskie said. "We're also encouraging them not to cook with it."