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Pregnant women: Water in W. Va. unsafe, officials say, pregnant women warned

The chemical MCHM spilled from these storage tanks into the Elk River northeast of downtown Charleston, W.Va., contaminating the water supply for 300,000 people.

Pregnant women in West Virginia listen up. While the rest of the state is told to go ahead and drink tap water, health officials are now saying that pregnant women should stick to purified, bottled water, raising the question – Just how safe is the “contaminated” water to begin with?

CNN on Thursday asked that question, and even doctors are echoing the same concern.

“That's a good question,” said Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department. “There's a lot of unknowns about this potential chemical that have the chance to do some harm to humans.”

The recent warning from the CDC came after a chemical spill contaminated drinking water with 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, MCHM for short, in Charleston, W.Va. The spill occurred on Jan. 9, affecting 300,000 people in nine counties in the southern part of the state.

Over 200,000 individuals have been told the drinking water was “safe.” But the warning to pregnant women, coming after the CDC cleared some areas of ground water contamination, and coming after some pregnant women started to drink the water, is unsettling to residents.

On Jan. 13, some residents were advised that the well and city water were safe, but on Jan. 15, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources issued an advisory for pregnant women.

“Out of an abundance of caution… pregnant women drink bottled water until there are no longer detectable levels of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, or MCHM, in the water distribution system,” the advisory read, in part.

That has residents like Jennifer Kayrouz, who is 38 weeks pregnant, upset.

“It's very upsetting,” said Kayrouz, who lives in Knawha City, one of the first neighborhoods told to go ahead and drink water. “I am not ingesting it, but I felt safe enough to shower in it… and was still washing dishes by hand. I have a master's in public health, and I know people are very polarized on this issue, but I put my faith in our local health department that said the water was safe. I feel like it wasn't right.”

If the water is potentially harmful to pregnant women, why is it not equally harmful to others?

“If it is not safe for me to drink pregnant, is it safe for my 55-pound daughter to drink or our pets?” Kayrouz asked. “It's very misleading. We got the green light, and three days later were told this one population really shouldn't drink it. It kind of flies in the face of my training. What are we supposed to believe?”

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