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Kanawha schools to resume using tap water Monday

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Schools in Kanawha County will resume using tap water next week.

West Virginia's largest school district has been supplying bottled water in schools for students to use and for cooks to prepare food with since January's chemical leak into the Elk River but said that would end Monday.

Kanawha County Schools Superintendent Ron Duerring sent an email to school board members just before 7 a.m. Friday announcing the decision, saying parents would be notified Friday or Saturday evening.

"This will give parents time to purchase supplies if they decide to send bottled water or pack lunches," Duerring said in the email.

An automated call went out at about 6 p.m. Friday informing parents of the decision.

Duerring said bottled water will be available to students in schools "as long as supplies last," and the system is returning to "normal operating conditions."

Hand sanitizer will be available to students and staff members, Duerring said.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced late Friday afternoon that West Virginia no longer is in a state of emergency.

State Department of Education spokeswoman Liza Cordeiro said the decision to use tap water is up to individual school districts and will depend on supplies available.

After schools across several counties had to close for days after Freedom Industries' Crude MCHM leak into the Elk on Jan. 9, once schools re-opened, reports of odor coming from faucets and coinciding health symptoms again forced some schools to close.

The Department of Education developed a "rapid response team," made up of health department, Department of Environmental Protection and National Guard officials, to evaluate reports of the licorice-like odor coming from schools' faucets, and other problems, to determine if it's appropriate to evacuate students.

The team has been testing school water supplies for the coal-cleaning chemical, labeling anything under 10 parts per billion -- a threshold determined by Tomblin that is stricter than the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendation for consumption -- as "non-detectable."

Just last week, Tomblin had schools tested at an even lower threshold of 2 parts per billion, which the majority of schools cleared.

Earlier this month, parents signed a petition to get Kanawha County Schools to supply bottled water through the end of the school year in May.

Karan Ireland, a Kanawha County Schools parent who founded Citizens Actively Protecting the Environment (CAPE) after the chemical leak, encouraged parents Friday to push for bottled water for the rest of the school year. She distributed school officials' contact information via social media.

"I'm concerned about the lack of notification," Ireland said. "This brings questions up about schools that have enough bottled water versus other schools that don't. I'm concerned especially for parents who have little kids in school who might not be able to say they're not allowed to use it."

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


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