West Virginia American Water officials have said the water in their lines is now safe to drink, once faucets are properly flushed, but residents are still wary of using the water - parents, especially, because water officials are not testing taps at schools for the toxic chemical.
"Even though we believe we have to trust our state agencies and we believe that, to the best of our knowledge, things are safe, we know that the public has some questions about it and may not feel confident about our using the water for their children." Nowviskie said. "Our community is really very understanding of the situation. Most of them have been in the situation where they're at home and they don't have water themselves, so they know what we're dealing with. They want their children back in school badly enough, so they've been really understanding of this."
Deana Bowers didn't send her child to Winfield Elementary School on Friday, though, and said she heard from parents inside the school that students were allowed to use water fountains and that the water was still giving off a strong black-licorice odor.
"Why are we putting trust in the system when no one has tested the water? With all due respect, the health department inspections are just there to make sure your school is clean," Bowers said. "They say the water will be available upon request, well how is a kindergartener going to know they should ask for bottled water?"
"My kids haven't missed school at all . . . but today they're going to be counted absent," she said. "It's going to be counted against them because I'm trying to err on the side of caution, because no one can give me answers."
Kanawha schools are hoping to reopen Tuesday, following Monday's Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, but there's no way to predict what the chemical levels in the water will be at that time, said Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department.
"We hope to have some guidance to the schools by Tuesday. As of now, we continue to have the same guidance -- as per the West Virginia American Water company and the CDC -- they have deemed that below the 1-part-per-million threshold is safe," Gupta said. "We're asking people to make their own decisions for themselves and for their children until we can get more information from our federal partnerships."
Gupta said some people are reacting to the chemical even though their water has been deemed safe to use again. However, he also urged those affected to adhere to pediatrician Dr. Raheel Khan's advice that children under 3 years of age should avoid drinking the water.
Communication between school officials and parents is of the utmost importance now, said Boone County Schools Superintendent John Hudson. Only 10 of Boone County's 16 schools had been given the OK by the health department by Friday afternoon.
"Student safety is our very first priority. I will be sending out announcements to all of our families ... just updating them on our progress," Hudson said. "I want them to feel comfortable that we've done everything possible to make sure the students are safe once they return to school."
Staff writers Lydia Nuzum and Lori Kersey contributed to this report.
Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.m...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.