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Two more Kanawha schools to re-flush pipes

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Two Kanawha County schools will have to yet again undergo the water-flushing process after complaints from teachers and students about the return of a strong odor like black licorice.

West Virginia American Water officials planned to drain the water tank for the town of Belle Tuesday night to allow for re-flushing of area water systems, including those at Riverside High School and Midland Trail Elementary, "because of persistent odor complaints," according to Nasandra Wright, sanitarian supervisor for the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department.

"Once they accomplish that, schools can flush again [Wednesday] ... and then we'll be able to inspect and re-sample," Wright said.

According to test results posted on the website of the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, the water at the two schools tested as "non-detectable" -- below 10 parts per billion -- last week for the coal-cleaning chemical Crude MCHM, which leaked into the Elk River Jan. 9 and contaminated water for 300,000 West Virginians.

But Riverside High School Principal Valery Harper said the odor was instantly detectable Monday morning after the weekend break.

"We smelled it. When we came in Monday there was a strong licorice odor present, and an oily substance was noticed," Harper said. "I got on the intercom and told the kids what I know, and they've handled it like troupers."

An advanced placement chemistry class at the school is even trying to take the matter into their own hands. Since last week, students have been testing the water for chemicals, as well as checking pH levels, conductivity and other factors, Harper said.

The students are expecting more comprehensive results as they gather more samples within the next few days, said Rachel Daw, a student in the Riverside chemistry class.

"So far we just know it has an odor, and it has an oily top level to it," Daw said. "We are still doing tests on it throughout the week and are going to compare all the tests soon."

Riverside and Midland Trail -- which are next to each other in Quincy -- are not the first schools that have had to flush their water systems more than once following a chemical leak into the Elk River last month.

Just last week, Crude MCHM was detected at six area schools -- long after the water ban had been lifted and schools had been cleared by the Health Department to reopen for class.

Over the weekend, those schools were again cleared, after the schools' pipes were re-flushed and a second round of testing showed undetectable levels of the chemical.

Photos of brownish water from Midland Trail's taps circulated on social media, but Kanawha County Schools Superintendent Ron Duerring said the discoloration was not related to the chemical leak.

"The yellow water was from a water line break off our property that had nothing to do with this," Duerring said. "What we're responding to is some kind of odor. I don't know what caused that. I have no idea."

Schools impacted by the chemical leak are continuing to cook only with bottled water, and Riverside High received four more shipments Tuesday.

Harper said at Riverside they're even using bottled water to clean desks and floors, and water fountains and sinks are off limits to students.

"It just takes a bit of an extra step, but we're trying to do the best we can," Harper said. "Honestly, I expected more drama -- more questions. ... It's the most difficult for the cooks. They're the ones that have to prepare the food and use a different routine."

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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