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Distribution centers to offer water through weekend

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Water distribution sites in Kanawha County will be in operation through the weekend, but it's unclear what will happen after that, officials said Thursday.

Kanawha County Manager Jennifer Sayre said distribution sites are less busy this week than they were immediately after the Jan. 9 chemical spill into the Elk River and the water-supply lines. The county initially went through as many as six trucks per day. Now, though, it is going through two trucks a day. Still, though, the stream of people seeking bottled water is steady.

"Our stance is that, as long as [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] will provide water for us to distribute, we will distribute it," Sayre said.

FEMA's water provisions are dependent on requests from the state, said spokesman Peter Herrick.

"There's a few wrinkles added in with the determination that water is safe," Herrick said of the "do-not-use" advisory that was lifted for the Kanawha Valley last week.

Since then, residents have been hesitant to use water deemed safe last week by West Virginia American Water and the state government.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin told reporters Monday the 300,000 residents in the affected area should make their own decisions about whether to drink tap water provided by West Virginia American Water, but it was revealed Tuesday that a second chemical was contained inside the tank that leaked the coal-processing chemical Crude MCHM into the Elk River.

There is little information on the second chemical, called PPH, aside from a data sheet provided by Freedom Industries, the company responsible for storing both chemicals. The sheet lists PPH as less lethal than Crude MCHM, but also says it can irritate eyes and skin, and is harmful if swallowed.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said Thursday that his office has been working closely with agencies at the local, state and federal levels to assist in relief efforts, as well as finding answers to questions raised as new information is released.

"Many West Virginians continue to get conflicting advice from public health professionals and public officials about how and whether to use their tap water," Rockefeller said in a statement to the Gazette. "For that reason, I understand why some people are telling me they remain skeptical of its safety and continue to use bottled water. My staff and I are doing everything in our power to get residents as much accurate information as possible, and as quickly as possible."

The state has 50 trucks of water that are available for distribution to affected areas through the weekend, said Lawrence Messina, spokesman for the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety. It's unclear if the state will request more, as "retailers have ample supply of water available," Messina said.

While it is prepared to respond to the state's request, Herrick said FEMA wouldn't compete with retailers for commodities, such as water.

"If we're giving something away for free, it obviously has a huge impact on the private sector," Herrick said.

For now, the state will continue to fulfill county requests for water, Messina said.

Bottled water will be distributed Friday at the following locations:

• Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, parking lot off Washington and Reynolds streets, noon to 5 p.m.

• Witcher Creek Fire and Ambulance Station, behind Witcher Creek Exxon, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

• Sissonville Volunteer Fire Department, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

• Madison Volunteer Fire Department, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Additional sites in Kanawha County will be open Saturday and Sunday, Sayre said. Those will be announced Friday afternoon.

Reach Rachel Molenda at rachel.molenda@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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