On March 12, 2014 Dr. Andrew J. Whelton and graduate student LaKia McMillan traveled to the University of New Orleans to deliver a seminar about the January 2014 West Virginia drinking water contamination incident. The 45 minute seminar was entitled Lessons Learned from the Largest Drinking Water Chemical Contamination Incident in US History: The 2014 Elk River Chemical Spill, West Virginia.
Dr. Whelton’s University engineering and science team visited the affected area January 16-22, 2014. Some results of their actions were described during the seminar.
On January 9, 2014 the drinking water for 300,000 people living in 9 counties near the West Virginia state capitol became contaminated by industrial chemicals. Approximately 10,000 gallons of an industrial liquid product called Crude MCHM that also was mixed with a product called PPH was spilled into the Elk River. Chemicals within this mixture then entered the regional drinking water treatment facility and were distributed to 15% of the State of West Virginia’s population. Once detected, the 300,000 residents and businesses were ordered to immediately halt drinking water use for all purposes because of public health water safety / chemical exposure concerns.
This Do Not Use order remained in place for several days, affecting hospitals, businesses, and residences. The order was followed by direction that building and business owners as well as residents should flush the chemically contaminated water from their plumbing systems. Because of resident personal concerns about chemical exposures, several residents whom the University team interviewed did not flush their plumbing systems even after being directed by officials to do so. The incident was, and remains unprecedented.
The University team consisted of Dr. Whelton, Ms. McMillan along with Civil Engineering Professor Kevin White and graduate students Matt Connell, Keven Kelley, and Jeff Gill. The seminar presentation PDF file can be downloaded here: Whelton UNO WV Presentation. The file is 14 Megabites (MB) in size so downloading the file may be slow.
Dr. Whelton’s team has a twitter account and can be followed here: @TheWheltonGroup. The residents who were interviewed by the University team were identified by contacting West Virginia nonprofit organizations and through personal contacts of Dr. Whelton. On January 16, while Dr. Whelton’s team drove 15 hours to Charleston, West Virginia more than 80 homeowners asked for assistance. Results presented in the March 12 seminar describe a survey of 16 different homes.
Chemical tap water testing results obtained during their January visit are undergoing analysis and will be released in the coming weeks. As of today, Dr. Whelton’s team continues to receive questions by homeowners and nonprofit organizations about the lingering drinking water odors, the safety of the tap water in residences and schools, impact of the contaminated water on plumbing systems, and actions residents can take to protect themselves. Dr. Whelton participated in two town hall meetings in February 2014 to help answer questions from residents and businesses who were affected.