CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- With temperatures wavering between 10 and 15 degrees Fahrenheit, Wednesday wasn't a day most people would want to be opening water hydrants to take water samples.
"It's not so bad," said 1st Sgt. Brodie Kirkland, a member of the 34th Civil Support Team of the Virginia National Guard. "The good thing is you can get back in the car and get warm."
On Wednesday, Kirkland was one of 38 Civil Support Team members from the Virginia and West Virginia National Guard who were taking water samples to test for contaminants in water supplied by West Virginia American Water. National Guard support teams have been at the forefront of organizing, sampling and testing water since Freedom Industries leaked MCHM and PPH into the Elk River Jan. 9.
Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, state adjutant general, said civil support teams from West Virginia and neighboring states were called in to help organize and carry out a massive water testing campaign as soon as it became known the chemical leak had contaminated the water supply for 300,000 people in nine West Virginia counties.
"I think it was absolutely vital," Hoyer said. "The state just didn't have the capacity to test and sample at these volumes."
Originally set up in the 1990s, National Guard civil support teams were trained to respond to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear terrorist attacks. After the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon in 2001, the role of the teams was expanded to include weapons of mass destruction.
When two pressure cooker bombs went off at the Boston Marathon in April, National Guard civil support teams were there. Hoyer said team members' training in detecting and dealing with chemical weapons incidents also makes them ideal in helping with natural disasters and chemical spills.
"We assisted with the Katrina response," Hoyer said. "During Katrina, you had so much storm surge that it was throwing tanks of diesel fuel into the water supply."
Hoyer said the civil support team's tactics for dealing with the Freedom Industries spill are not unlike what they would do for a chemical weapons attack. "You'd have a very similar approach," he said.