CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia American Water has no plans to move its intake in the Elk River farther upstream, beyond the Freedom Industries plant that leaked a toxic chemical into the river earlier this month, the company's president told reporters Monday.
Jeff McIntyre said the company is "singularly focused" on getting customers the quality of water they had before the chemical leak that left 300,000 people in the Kanawha Valley without potable water for days.
"Our plans right now are to continue to go through the system, to get all samples that we take below [detectable levels], which gives us confidence it's been moved out of the system," McIntyre said. "We'll have to look at all things around this event at a later date, but no, we have no plans at this time" to move the intake.
The water company has consulted attorneys, but it isn't clear whether it will take legal action against Freedom Industries.
"We have to look at our options," McIntyre said. "I'm going to take whatever actions I need to take as the president of West Virginia American Water to protect our customers."
Some people have been reluctant to drink the water even after the company said it's safe, due in part to the chemical's lingering odor. The U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, in an email to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, recommended that customers flush their water pipes until they could no longer smell licorice, the scent associated with the chemical.
The ATSDR issued that advice Jan. 10, one day after the coal-processing chemical Crude MCHM was released into the Elk River. McIntyre said Monday he knew of no such advisory until reading about it in the Gazette on Monday.
He called that recommendation "inappropriate" and maintained that the scent is "an aesthetic issue," because the odor continues to occur despite chemical levels testing below 1 part per million, the level that state and water company officials have been relying on before they declare the water safe.
Suggesting people flush their pipes until the scent dissipates could deplete the company's water supply, McIntyre said.
West Virginia American Water has been working with several agencies to determine the safety of consuming its water, as well as methods to remove the tainted water from its system.
The methodology behind some of these recommendations, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 1-part-per-million safety threshold, has not been clear. Some recommendations were delayed.
Well within the third day of customer flushing, the CDC issued a letter to the DHHR advising pregnant women to refrain from drinking water until Crude MCHM was not detectable at any level.
McIntyre said he hasn't questioned the CDC.