CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia will fund an independent team of experts to test water in homes to try to determine long-term effects of the Elk River chemical spill, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced Tuesday.
Over the next three weeks, the team will test water in the home plumbing systems of 10 private homes: one in each of the nine affected counties, plus an extra home in Kanawha County.
The study -- called the West Virginia Testing Assessment Project, or WVTAP -- will have three main objectives. The team will convene a group of independent experts to evaluate the West Virginia's testing threshold of 10 parts per billion of Crude MCHM in water -- its usefulness as well as its limitations.
Second, a team of four scientists, let by Andrew Whelton, an environmental scientist from the University of South Alabama, will test water in homes to try to determine how Crude MCHM, and the other spilled chemical, PPH, interact with, and potentially stick to, different types of pipes.
Finally, the study also wants to find out the odor threshold of Crude MCHM -- how little of the chemical can be in the water in order for people to be able to smell it.
"The scale of chemical contamination of the drinking water in Charleston, W.Va., has been unprecedented," Whelton said at a Tuesday-evening news conference with Tomblin. "There is so little data available, many federal and state agencies could not and still cannot answer all the questions West Virginians are demanding to be answered."
Jeffrey Rosen, of Corona Environmental Consulting, will help Whelton conduct the study.
The 10 homes already have been selected. They are homes of people Whelton has been in touch with since he first arrived in West Virginia to do water crisis-related research three weeks ago.
Whelton's team will go into the homes accompanied by staff from local volunteer fire departments. They will sample hot and cold water -- about 21 gallons -- from the kitchen and the most commonly used bathroom. They will examine the plumbing, as different homes may have copper, iron, PVC or other plastic pipes.
Testing will be done at independent labs, and Whelton's team will not report to any state agency.
Once the initial round of 10 home tests is complete, the team will release preliminary results. They will then do more than 100 tests in additional homes around the region, Whelton said.
Tomblin has committed $650,000 from the state budget to fund the study, but he admitted Tuesday that that probably would not be nearly enough money. He said he has asked West Virginia's congressional delegation for help in securing federal money to further fund the study.
Asked how much federal money he thought would be needed, Tomblin said, "A lot."
"To be frank, this is an unprecedented disaster," Whelton said, adding that "$650,000 is a lot of money, but long-term monitoring is needed."
He said that with the help of the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, researchers need to begin more toxicological studies and animal studies as soon as possible.
Tomblin said West Virginia American Water President Jeff McIntyre told him at their last meeting that the company would offer money for home testing if the state needed it. The governor said they have not yet requested any financial assistance.