CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Having worked in the drinking water and wastewater profession for nearly 40 years, I have been very disappointed by the lack of guidance from all responsible parties regarding flushing and decontaminating water piping in facilities larger than a single family residence.
I initially noted this when a TV interview aired showing a person who had gone home at lunch to flush the water lines in his apartment. He stated he wanted to have clean water after work.
Flushing the lines in one unit of a multiple unit apartment complex, in accordance with the guidance on the West Virginia American Water Company's website for an individual residence, only drew additional contaminated water into the unit's water lines, leaving both the unit's and the apartment's water lines contaminated. A systematic, coordinated flushing program, based on the tanks and plumbing of the particular facility, was necessary to ensure contaminated water is removed from all pipes, tanks, etc.
My son lives in an apartment served by West Virginia American Water, so I was concerned his and other apartment complexes might not properly flush their water lines. I told him he should continue drinking and cooking with bottled water. Early on, I searched the water company's website for guidance on flushing plumbing in larger, commercial buildings and found none. A call to the West Virginia American Water's emergency number provided on its website led me to someone not even understanding my concern and telling me my son flushing his lines, in his unit, as outlined on the website, would be sufficient.
When I was not satisfied with this guidance, I was told a technical person would call me to discuss flushing such facilities. West Virginia American Water never returned my call. A second call to the emergency number, and a second assurance that a technical person would call me, also got no response.
As it turned out, simply telling all tenants in my son's apartment complex they should flush their lines as the water company recommended for individual residences, was not effective. This relied on the various occupants to flush their lines (in accordance with the guidelines for a residence) with no assurance that all would flush their lines, or when, and without determining if this was adequate for the plumbing in the building.
I worked with my son's building manager to find out about their plumbing system, and they have flushed again in a systematic, coordinated, complete manner we developed, ensuring all the building plumbing was flushed. Considering the numerous assurances provided that flushing will make your water safe, without any mention that it may be inadequate for commercial or multifamily structures, many may not have properly flushed their lines. When you consider the number of such buildings within the service area, it is likely thousands of people have been exposed (bathed, washed clothes and dishes, and drank) to water containing crude MCHM above the recommended level.
West Virginia American Water and federal authorities should remedy this problem by providing written guidance for such facilities and site-specific technical assistance where it is needed.
Watson, of Dryfork, has done water and wastewater work for 37 years, with the state Division of Natural Resources, consulting companies, the state Health Department and assisting small, rural water and wastewater systems.