CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- About a dozen people at a town hall meeting Wednesday night said they were afraid of contracting long-term health problems after the Jan. 9 Freedom Industries' chemical leak.
Dr. Rahul Gupta, health officer for the Kanawha Charleston Health Department, said the "Crude MCHM" that leaked into the Elk River has never been tested on humans. It's unclear how the chemical could affect people decades from now, he said. The only way to track these possible effects is for the federal government to create a medical monitoring program.
"We need a medical monitoring program," Gupta said. "We needed a medical monitoring program two weeks ago."
More than 100 people came to the Clay Center's Walker Theater for an invitation-only town hall to discuss the ongoing water crisis. The event was hosted and moderated by WCHS-TV and included a panel of experts to answer questions. The panel was made up of: Randy Huffman, cabinet secretary for the state Department of Environmental Protection; Mike Dorsey, chief of homeland security and emergency response for WVDEP; Erin Brockovich, a national environmental activist; Bob Bowcock, a member of Brockovich's investigative team; and Gupta.
Donna Wood, of Charleston, asked the panel what to do about frequent rashes on her body since the chemical spill tainted her water in South Hills. Gupta said Wood is one of many people he's seen with similar symptoms.
"I don't trust any doctor who says this is just the flu, a sunburn or something else," Gupta said. "We need to get people into rooms for examination and not just people who come to the ER. People who come to the ER are only the tip of the iceberg."
Gupta told the audience to use their own discretion when it comes to touching or drinking the tap water. Gupta only drinks tap water if it doesn't have the now-familiar licorice smell associated with the leak, he said.
Brockovich agreed with Gupta and said the people affected by the chemical spill should push state and federal officials to create programs to monitor long-term health effects.