By Jeffrey L. McIntyre
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The past month has been a very challenging time for all of our customers, neighbors, and employees in the Kanawha Valley. The Jan. 9 spill of MCHM from the Freedom Industries facility into the Elk River set the stage for days without full use of water by our customers. Rest assured, we join with our customers, neighbors, and government officials to do everything feasible to prevent spills like this from happening again.
West Virginia American Water is a local company that has served West Virginia communities for almost 130 years. It is where generations of our employees have raised their families. It is home. Our employees have responded to this event with a personal commitment to taking care of their neighbors.
We know that having confidence in the safety of water is paramount to you and your families. Following the spill, we and our interagency partners worked with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as it established the safe level of MCHM in water at a standard of 1 part per million (ppm) for all uses and all users, which was calculated conservatively using multiple safety factors. This level was achieved throughout the distribution system several weeks ago.
The determination that water is safe for all uses came from experts at the CDC, with concurrence from the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health and the federal EPA. In fact, Dr. Tanja Popovic, the Centers for Disease Control's National Center for Environmental Health's representative at Gov. Tomblin's Feb. 5 news conference stated ... "With all of the scientific evidence we have and with everything that numerous people have worked on so far, I can say you can use your water however you like."
We continue to flush the distribution system and work with the National Guard to sample and test the water. Our current effort is to bring MCHM in the water distribution system to a non-detect level, which is 100 times below the standard established as safe by the CDC. This has already been achieved in the majority of the distribution system to date.
We understand that there continue to be occasional reports of odor in the water system. Public health officials have stated that odors may remain in the water for a while, but that does not indicate a problem with the water's safety. Nevertheless, we fully acknowledge that the odor has caused concern. This continued concern is not acceptable to us as the stewards entrusted with your water service. That is why we will continue to work until the odor from MCHM is removed from the system.
The company is crediting residential and small business customers for water used to flush homes and businesses. Those credits will begin showing up in customer statements this week. The company also supported customers by bringing in 14 tankers to assist at bulk water distribution sites as well as 33 tractor-trailer loads of bottled water.
I am proud to lead a company with such dedicated employees in such a tremendous community. We take our responsibility to deliver water to our customers' homes and businesses that meets all standards very, very seriously. The entire West Virginia American team looks forward to continuing our service to our customers and neighbors with safe, reliable, and high quality water for decades to come.
McIntyre is president of West Virginia American Water.