Officials: Testing showing positive trends - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Officials: Chemical levels have been in ‘safe’ range for 24 hours

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CHARLESTON, WV -

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and members of the interagency team assembled to address the water crisis in nine Southern West Virginia counties said at a Jan. 12 media briefing the chemical levels had come down into a safe zone.

"The numbers look good and are very encouraging," Tomblin said. "I believe we are at a point where we can see the light at the end of the tunnel."

Click HERE for background information about the Jan. 9 chemical spill at Freedom Industries in Charleston that caused the "do not use" order for 300,000 people in parts of nine Southern West Virginia counties.

Tomblin said the team had made a lot of progress has been made by the team in the last three days.

Jeff McIntyre, President of West Virginia American Water, said the samples needed to be taken throughout the zones to verify the water in that zone is safe.

McIntyre said the zones will be cleared in an order, with the first zone accounting for 25,000 customers or 50-60 percent of their water supply.

He said a website as well as a hotline will be created to let customers know if the are clear to begin the flushing process.

The first zone cleared will be downtown Charleston and the East End, he said.

The second zone cleared will be as early as an hour after the first, and will include Kanawha City, he said. The third zone will be South Charleston and the fourth Charleston's west side.

Officials said the chemical is a "highly soluble compound" and they don't believe there will be long term effects on houses and buildings.

That interagency team is made up of agents with the West Virginia Bureau of Public Health, West Virginia American Water and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Mike Dorsey, chief of Homeland Security and Emergency Response for Department of Environmental Protection, said the tanks used to store this chemical, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, are currently being cleaned and will soon be cut apart as well as two other storage tanks to determine more about the chemical.

He said the riverbanks are still contaminated and the there will continue to be "quite a bit of work after (the) emergency is over."

Dorsey said the tanks are not subject to inspections because they are only storage tanks, and coal is not being cleaned at that facility.

"We don't have the regulatory authority to inspect tanks," he said. "It is at the company's discretion."

Dorsey said the industry technically did comply with the laws because under the Water Resource Act, Title 47, there is no specified time period to report such a leak. He said it simply states "immediately."

Adj. Gen. James Hoyer said over the last 24 hours the team had been sampling and testing the water from the treatment facility.

"We have consistent numbers below one part per million," Hoyer said Sunday night. "The teams (has) agreed that allows us to move forward to the next phase."

Lt. Col. Greg Grant said the numbers are trending in the way officials expected, with most tests coming up under a threshold set by the agencies.

"Over the last 2 hours we've collected hundreds of samples," Grant said. "The numbers (coming from) fire hydrants are encouraging."

Grant said as early as Saturday evening, samples were coming back with results above the one part per million threshold, but since 7 a.m. Sunday the numbers were around 0.7 parts per million.

"(There will be) continuous operations going on as long as necessary to make sure we get all zones and districts taken care of," Grant added.

Remediation is still ongoing at the site of the leak to prevent more of the chemical leaching into the river, according to Mike Dorsey with the DEP.

Jimmy Gianato, Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said that supplies are still on their way for residents that need them.  Water distribution sites will operate as long as the water ban is in affect.

Secretary Karen Bowling with the West Virginia Department of Health said they are seeing a decline in the number of people calling the poison control center. She said it is encouraging no one else will report having seen implications of the chemical being in their water supply.

And West Virginia Superintendent of Schools James Phares said a plan was being organized to keep schools closed until they were safe and then safely reopen them once the water system was ready.

(COMPLETE LIST OF SCHOOL CLOSINGS)