CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha County emergency staff should work with the state and officials from neighboring counties to catalog all chemical hazards to the Elk River, Commissioner Dave Hardy said Thursday. Hardy wants the officials to make a plan to deal with those hazards.
"This is what keeps people up at night," Hardy said at a regular meeting of the Kanawha County Commission. "Could this happen again?"
It seems obvious in the aftermath of the Jan. 9 Freedom Industries chemical spill that leaked up to 10,000 gallons of Crude MCHM into the Elk River, contaminating the water supply for 300,000 people in nine counties. But Hardy said no one has really looked at the Elk River and tried to make a list of all the hazards that could threaten the water supply in the future.
Deputy Emergency Services Director C.W. Sigmon said county emergency officials are already looking at what industries and potential chemical hazards lie upstream of Charleston's main West Virginia American Water plant, which sucked the chemical into its Elk River intakes on Jan. 9 and sent contaminated water out to its customers. The leak prompted officials to order water customers not to use their water for drinking, cooking and bathing until levels of MCHM dropped to levels company officials deemed safe.
Even after being told they could flush their water pipes and start using the water again, many local residents still don't trust the water supply, and are relying on bottled water. County officials said four more tractor-trailer loads of water will be distributed today.
"This water crisis has turned into a crisis of confidence," said Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper.
Carper said county emergency agencies and county employees did an excellent job getting the word out about the water emergency and securing and distributing safe water for residents. Although reluctant to place blame for the chemical spill, Carper said federal officials could have done a better job giving out information about the chemical, its potential hazards and what to do about it.
"Where is the CDC?" Carper wanted to know.
Officials don't yet know if there are long-term health effects from exposure to the chemical. Kanawha-Charleston Health Department Executive Director Dr. Rahul Gupta thinks its necessary to track health data from the spill over the next decade, Hardy said.
Reach Rusty Marks at rustyma...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.