CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha County parents are wondering how the school system will handle ongoing concerns about water safety now that complaints at schools are being fielded by a new "response team" tasked with deciding when to evacuate students.
Among the requests made in public delegations at Wednesday's Kanawha County Board of Education meeting was that schools be supplied bottled water through the end of the school year in May and for water fountains to remain bagged and off limits.
But whether that will happen has not been determined, County Superintendent Ron Duerring said.
"I just don't know. We don't have a date at this point," Duerring said of how long precautions will continue. "We're not really getting reports of odor anymore, and we're going to continue to offer bottled water for those who want it and we're trying to get more in.
"If we can't supply it for the rest of the year, if parents want to send water to the school, they can," he said.
Duerring said since the Jan. 9 chemical leak into the Elk River, which imposed a water ban for about 300,000 West Virginians, the school system has learned more about the water's effects and proper protocol -- pointing to reports of fainting, nausea and burning eyes when Riverside High School flushed faucets while class was in session.
"Nothing in the protocol said everyone had to be out of the building. I would dare say that most of us flushed [at home] when our families were in the house. We learned a very valuable lesson in that... we'll never do that again," he said. "I think it's important to remember we didn't create the issue. We're responding to the issues as they come about. We feel kids are pretty safe at school."
"[The response team] has been proven to be pretty effective. At least we have a systemic way of handling these situations as they come up," Duerring said.
Dr. Rahul Gupta, executive director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, who has, along with members of the National Guard, lead inspections and taken water samples in schools across the state to test for levels of Crude MCHM in the water, also said students are safe.
"What's happened here is unprecedented and historic in the history of this nation, to have drinking water contaminated for 300,000 people," Gupta said at Wednesday's meeting. "I can tell you confidently at no time was the safety and the health of the kids ever compromised, and I really feel proud saying that as the health officer here because I'd be the first one to tell you. That wasn't the case."
Duerring said in some ways, schools are at an advantage when it comes to dealing with the chemical leak because they have access to ongoing water testing that's being done to ensure recommended "non-detect" levels of the chemical are in the water.
But Vic Sprouse, former senate minority leader and a candidate for the school board, said Wednesday, that those water samples, which test to ensure that the chemical is at levels below 10 parts per billion, don't mean much to worried parents.