State officials have provided few details of their testing procedure, including whether they are checking only for Crude MCHM or also for any of that material's ingredients.
On Sunday, the Tomblin administration issued a statement that said the state's testing could detect to concentrations as small as 10 parts per billion. On Monday, officials from the Louisville Water Co. said that they were able to detect lower concentrations, as low as about 1 part per billion.
Asked why West Virginia was not using a method that would detect as low as the Louisville sampling, Tomblin again emphasized the CDC's guidance that anything below 1 part per million was safe for everyone except pregnant women. The state has issued an advisory warning pregnant women to drink only bottled water for now.
The governor said, "I'm not a scientist," adding that whether the detection limit is 10 parts per billion or 1 part per billion, the concentration involved "is still minuscule."
Tomblin answered questions from a small group of reporters following a news conference, held before a larger group including legislators and lobbyists, to announce his administration's plan for a new regulatory program for above-ground storage tanks.
Tomblin said his administration would be looking at all possible responses, including possibly revisiting a U.S. Chemical Safety Board recommendation, made twice following fatal chemical plant accidents in the Kanawha Valley, and create a new chemical accident prevention program.
"We're going to look at all of this," the governor said. "It's a very complex issue. I'm not a scientist. I have to follow the best information.
"All of this stuff is coming out," Tomblin said. "Right now there are recommendations from a lot of people."
Over the weekend, the Tomblin administration also tried to downplay the illnesses reported by residents who have sought medical attention, blaming the flu or anxiety over the water crisis.
Laura Vandenberg, an assistant professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, said that there is little data to support the administration's comments.
"I also believe several statements are confusing the concept that just because there are no known dangers doesn't mean that something is safe," Vandenberg said.
"This is frustrating," she said. "I know that public health officials are trying to keep people from panicking, and I also know that people will start to notice small rashes or sore throats and automatically assume it is related to the spill.
"But answers to questions like, 'Are there known risks associated with this chemical mixing with household cleaners?' can be answered with a 'no' only because there are no known risks -- because this is completely unstudied," Vandenberg said.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.