State and federal officials have said residents can resume using water from West Virginia American Water's regional system, citing test results showing that levels of Crude MCHM were below a controversial 1 part-per-million "screening level" set by the CDC.
But government officials have done no testing inside people's homes, and tests at area schools have been only of chemical levels in the water -- not of levels in the air, despite complaints about inhalation impacts and a lack of data on the inhalation toxicity of the material.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's office has said the governor instructed state teams to come up with a plan for testing samples from homes across the region to address concerns from citizens and scientists that Crude MCHM could have been absorbed by home plumbing systems, where it could continue to leach into water -- even if in very small amounts -- for some undetermined amount of time.
At the same time, it's not clear what -- if any -- long-term testing beyond West Virginia American's water plant intake and output will continue. And Ben Gilmer, a project manager from Downstream Strategies, questioned whether officials are taking adequate samples across the distribution system.
"It appears water sampling has basically stopped beyond the water intake facility and public schools," Gilmer said. "Though a detailed explanation of their sampling methodology has yet to be provided, it appears that authorities are no longer retesting sampling locations after they reach a no-detection level. However, based on our review of the sampling data, there were multiple samples that previously had detectable MCHM levels, yet not all of these specific locations have been retested. Therefore, we have no way of knowing if they truly reached a no-detection level."
Gilmer said the state has refused to release more-detailed geographic information about the locations they have tested, saying those data belong to the water company.
"One of the most basic and fundamental steps that state authorities could take to regain public trust would be to show on a map where they have sampled each day, along with sample results," Gilmer said.
With those data, Gilmer said, citizens could see for themselves how water quality is improving over time across the region and be confident the state's sampling approach is sufficient.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.