Charleston water system nearing consistent 'nondetects' for leak - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Charleston water system nears consistent 'nondetects' for leaked chemical

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Jeff McIntyre drank several glasses of tap water Jan. 20 to prove he believes the Charleston area water supply is safe.

McIntyre is president of West Virginia American Water Co., and he spent part of the day answering questions about progress that has been made in ridding the system of the chemical crude MCHM and about what comes next.

The company is still flushing the system until readings consistently show no sign of MCHM, which would be about 10 parts per billion, McIntyre said. Water was cleared for consumption when MCHM levels reached 1 part per million, or 100 times the nondetect level the company is aiming for.

"We are seeing nondetects as we radiate outward from the plant," he said.

Getting the entire system down to 10 ppb or less will take a few more days, he said.

"I think we're talking days, but I wouldn't say a week or two is out of the question," McIntyre said.

On Jan. 9, crude MCHM, a chemical used in cleaning coal leaked from a storage take owned by Freedom Industries about a mile up the Elk River from the water company's intake. McIntyre said he had not heard of MCHM before the leak.

Some people in the area believe the tank was leaking and the chemical was in the water before Jan. 9 because they detected its characteristic licorice smell, but McIntrye said he disagrees. If the chemical had been in the water, someone at the treatment plant would have smelled it, he said.

The 300,000 people affected by the spill have been told they now can use the water safely for drinking, cooking and bathing if they flush their plumbing systems in the manner recommended by West Virginia American Water. But many refuse to do so because they still smell the chemical.

"Trust takes time to build back up, and we're committed to regaining the trust of our customers," McIntyre said.

McIntyre described the odor as an "aesthetic issue" and said he smelled the odor in a glass of water provided to him by another local reporter.

Despite all that has happened, West Virginia American Water has had no discussions about moving the intake, McIntyre said.