CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Tomblin administration consultants said Friday they have made "significant progress" on a program to test homes and evaluate state and federal health standards used in the wake of January's leak of the chemical Crude MCHM into the Elk River water supply that serves 300,00 West Virginians.
Experts who are coordinating the West Virginia Testing Assessment Project (WVTAP), said they've hired scientists who will evaluate the odor threshold for the chemical and re-examine the concentrations at which state officials said the water was acceptable to drink.
Andrew Whelton, a University of South Alabama engineer, said his team has also completed water testing at 10 homes as part of a pilot project that will help in the design of a much broader water-sampling program across the region.
"We need to do this rapidly," Whelton said. "The people of West Virginia need answers now."
Whelton was subcontracted by Corona Environmental Consulting, the firm hired by Tomblin's Bureau for Public Health to study the leak's impacts and address continued public concerns about the water's safety that continue more than a month after a do-not-use order was lifted.
On Friday morning, Whelton and Corona Environmental President Jeff Rosen held a briefing to update the media and the public on their work since being hired by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin last week.
Whelton said that his team has tested hot and cold water from kitchens and bathrooms in 10 homes and also has interviewed residents and examined home plumbing systems.
Some results of the work have begun to come in, but Whelton said his team won't be making those results public until it has reviewed them and ensured the accuracy of the data.
Whelton and Rosen both said they are committed to a transparent process and to operate independently of the state Bureau for Public Health, but said they want to be sure any information released is accurate and presented with enough context for the public to understand the findings.
Part of the WVTAP project will focus on understanding how chemicals from the leak interact with home plumbing systems, to determine if any of the chemicals chemically bonded with piping materials, leaving some of the contamination inside people's homes.
Whelton said state officials made mistakes in their response to the chemical leak, but blamed those mistakes on the lack of any clear national plan for how to handle this sort of drinking water contamination.
"Because there was no blueprint for how to respond to a situation like this, there were a lot of missteps," Whelton said. "This work should have been done 10 years ago."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.