A description of Whelton's NSF-funded study said that, "Utility and government responders do not have the information needed to determine the extent of plastic pipe contamination and their ability to be decontaminated by clean-water flushing."
Whelton said, "I have never witnessed such a grand scientific need to characterize household plumbing-system water quality. We need to know more about the fundamental engineering and science of these interactions, which is why this is an NSF-funded project."
During a legislative hearing Wednesday, Marshall University environmental engineer Scott Simonton made similar comments. Simonton, who is consulting for a law firm that's filed suit over the leak, said residents he's met with have flushed their plumbing for hours and still have a licorice odor in their water.
Later on Wednesday, the state Department of Health and Human Resources issued a statement and held a news conference attacking Simonton. They focused on his comments that one water sample he had taken at a downtown Charleston business had detected cancer-causing formaldehyde, which he said is a possible byproduct of the Crude MCHM breaking down, in the water.
The statement, issued in the name of the DHHR's Bureau for Public Health commissioner, Dr. Letitia Tierney, called Simonton's comments about formaldehyde "totally unfounded."
At the news conference, Tierney said the DHHR is beginning to examine records of the more than 500 people who sought medical attention, to determine if there is a clear link to chemical exposure from the leak.
Later, though, in a written response issued through a DHHR public relations official Thursday afternoon, Tierney repeated the government's previous statements that it has no plans to test water in people's homes or re-examine the state's flushing protocol for residents.
"At this time, [the] DHHR is not planning to investigate the home flushing process or conduct testing inside of people's homes," Tierney said in the written response.
In an interview Thursday, Simonton noted that state officials had responded only to his comments regarding formaldehyde, not to his broader remarks questioning if the flushing process worked and if enough is known about what happened to the MCHM that entered people's home plumbing.
"The formaldehyde piece was just an example of what we don't know," Simonton said.
He said it's understandable that state public-health officials don't know the answer to every question about the leak's impacts, but he said they need to show a commitment to getting those answers.
"This is Environmental Science 101," Simonton said. "It's stunning that anyone can come out and defend not doing these things."
Simonton, a member of the state Environmental Quality Board, said public-health officials need to more clearly explain to residents how little they really know at this point about the potential long-term impacts.
"I understand the limitations of what they're doing," Simonton said. "They don't seem to want to admit the limitations of what they're doing."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.