The Water is Safe to Drink, or is it?

Chemical-Spill-West-Virginia

Before authorities in West Virginia lifted the ban on drinking water, they flushed the system to purge the harmful chemicals from the local water supply. But according to a member of the state Environmental Quality Board, the flush may not have removed the chemicals from the system.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The “flushing” recommended by the Tomblin administration and West Virginia American Water might not have effectively eliminated Crude MCHM and other toxic chemicals from plumbing systems in homes and businesses, experts are warning.

MCHM from the Jan. 9 Freedom Industries leak into the Elk River might be stuck inside pipes and hot-water tanks, and experts are concerned that the chemical also could be breaking down into other toxic materials that have yet to be fully identified. [...]

[R]esidents have continued to complain that the black-licorice smell of the chemical is lingering, especially in their hot water.

State officials, in announcing their guidance for flushing, rejected an earlier recommendation from the ATSDR that residents be advised to flush their plumbing systems until the chemical odor is gone.

Simonton said people have flushed for hours and hours, and the odor still remains.

“We know the stuff is sticking,” he said. “Exactly where it is or how it’s happening is unclear right now.”

The Tomblin administration has rejected recent findings that dangerous chemicals are still lurking in the water, pitting their word against the word of local scientists.

Given that the administration has been wrong about several things, including their estimates that only 2,500 to 5,000 gallons of chemicals had leaked when in fact as much or more than 10,000 gallons leaked, it’s hard to just take their word for it.

The full makeup of the chemicals that spilled into the river still isn’t known because the state either has not released that information or they simply don’t know. And if they don’t know, how they can speak with authority on the continuing danger or a lack thereof?

As you might except, lawsuits are brewing as a result of this and I suspect that we won’t truly know the full extent of the damage caused to the local environment and population until it goes to court. And given that there are likely to be long-term impacts to health and the environment, we may not hear the last of this for quite some time.

It shouldn’t have to be that way, but that’s the way it looks right now. The information that comes out during the trial(s) will be more detailed than what the state is divulging. Furthermore, the extent of the state government’s failure to prevent or adequately respond to the disaster may not be known until it goes to court.

The staff of the Charleston Gazette should be commended for staying on top of every detail of this story.

(photo via AP)

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  • muselet

    The full makeup of the chemicals that spilled into the river still isn’t known because the state either has not released that information or they simply don’t know. And if they don’t know, how they can speak with authority on the continuing danger or a lack thereof?

    They can speak with authority because they’ve been assured by their paymasters … erm, by the coal industry … uh, by experts (yeah, that’s the ticket) that the risk is minimal. What more proof could they possibly need?

    It’s really hard to follow a story like this one without becoming distressingly cynical.

    –alopecia

  • lahru

    It is time to declare the complete water system a disaster area. Not sure if the chemicals are attaching to pipes and plumbing but it seems it is. It might come down to replacing every pipe, elbow, faucet and hot water heater. If the water touched it as far as plumbing, replace it. People lives are in danger.

  • Christopher Foxx


    The “flushing” recommended by the Tomblin administration and West Virginia American Water might not have effectively eliminated Crude MCHM and other toxic chemicals from plumbing systems in homes and businesses, experts are warning.

    When you’re “flushing” a system, you do the flushing process and then check to see that it worked. You don’t say “This should take care of it”, do it, and then walk away assuming it was effective.

    “Well, we’ve gone thru all the listed steps for removing your appendix. You can go home now. No need to hang around in post-op for observation.” Really?

    Simonton said people have flushed for hours and hours, and the odor still remains.

    That’s called a “clue”.

  • Michael Maroney

    The answer is, heated water deposits calcium inside pipes and hot water heaters which can absorb other chemicals. This buildup takes many times longer to occur in cold water pipes.

  • Sabyen91

    “And if they don’t know, how they can speak with authority on the continuing danger or a lack thereof?”

    Heck, the governor put the onus on the consumers for their continued safety. He said he didn’t know if the water was safe and it was up to the individual to decide for himself if they thought it was safe enough to drink.

    Caveat emptor, my subjects, caveat emptor.

  • Sabyen91

    I can just see the response to calls for increased regulations.

    “Uncle Sugar wants everyone (including illegal immigrants) to have clean water and do you know who is going to pay for it? You!”