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Water testing continues in WV chemical spill

The "Do Not Use Water" alert continues in all or parts of nine West Virginia counties after a chemical spill Jan. 9 contaminated the entire Kanawha Valley Water System. An interagency water quality assessment team is meeting this morning, Jan. 12, at the incident command center of West Virginia American to discuss the results of the latest water quality tests. West Virginia American is the water system operator. As many as 300,000 West Virginia residents are enduring a fourth day without the use of the water from their tap.

People shop for clean water at a grocery store in the Town of St. Albans just 10 miles to the west of Charleston on January 10, 2014 in Charleston, West Virginia.
Photo by Tom Hindman/Getty Images

The assessment team includes members of the West Virginia National Guard. In a telephone interview on Jan. 11, LTC Todd Harrell described the work being done by some of the 116 guardsmen assigned to the chemical spill. Personnel from the 35th Civil Support Team (WMD) are actively engaged in sampling and testing water for any tract of 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol (MCHM), the chemical that spilled. The unit is normally tasked with assisting civilian authorities in the event of an incident involving weapons of mass destruction. The team's training and resources allow the authorities to be able to test far more of the system in a timely manner.

The Centers for Disease Control and the Environmental Protection Agency have established a safe limit for MCHM in drinking water. At or below one part per million (1 ppm) the two agencies feel that there should be no health effects. The Charleston Daily Mail reports in a Jan. 11 story that tests of the water in the system have varied. While some have shown contamination levels below the safe limit, others continue to be higher. Authorities must wait until results are consistent across the 1,700 miles of distribution piping and over 100 water storage facilities.

The National Guard is also involved in the distribution of bottled water, Harrell said. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is trucking water from its national stockpile to the Air National Guard base in Charleston. From there, West Virginia guardsmen are moving the water to a large number of distribution sites throughout the region. The Guard has also made available a number of water buffaloes, which are trailers that carry a 400 gallon tank for the bulk transport of clean drinking water.

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