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St. Albans monitoring water supply

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- St. Albans city officials don't think they'll have to shut down the town's water plant, but they're ready if they have to.

St. Albans has been one of the few areas in the Kanawha Valley with a safe water supply after Freedom Industries leaked 7,500 gallons of Crude MCHM in the Elk River on Jan. 9, contaminating drinking water for about 300,000 people in nine counties.

The chemical spill was soon sucked into intakes at West Virginia American Water's treatment plant in Charleston, just downstream from the Freedom Industries storage facility. The tainted water then flowed into the Kanawha River and was carried downstream, where it threatened water supplies in Cincinnati and is currently near Louisville, Ky.

St. Albans draws its water supply from the Coal River and was considered safe -- until West Virginia American Water began clearing residents to flush their contaminated home plumbing systems.

Flushed water in at least two tainted locations -- Danville, in Boone County, and parts of Lincoln County -- will be discharged into the Coal River, creating the potential for contaminating the St. Albans water supply.

St. Albans Mayor Dick Callaway said city officials and operators of the town water plant are ready for that scenario. Callaway said city officials are sampling water from the Coal every two hours, which is then being tested by city water officials and two independent agencies for signs of MCHM.

"We have the ability to detect it down to [parts per] billion," Callaway said. "That testing is going to continue until this [emergency] is past."

Callaway said city officials are prepared to shut down the water plant if any MCHM is detected in the Coal River. He said the plant has a reserve of 2.5 million gallons that will be able to supply water until any contamination has passed the water plant.

But Callaway doesn't think town officials will have to shut down the water plant. Flushed water released Thursday from Danville has not shown any contamination so far and should have already flowed by the St. Albans water plant.

"If there were anything coming our way, it would have passed us by now," Callaway said Friday afternoon.

But he said water testing will continue.

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.


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