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What is the context of this research?
Even today, the residents of the Charleston, West Virginia community affected by the chemical spill and contaminated drinking water still do not have drinking water safety data for faucets inside their homes.
Water required for basic, every day needs remains contaminated, and residents do not have the ability to ensure the water inside their homes is safe. Bathing has yielded multiple health concerns and has caused several families to seek medical attention (not to mention the many that refuse to use the water out of fear).
My team and I have recently visited the Charleston area to conduct in-home water testing and helped others flush their plumbing systems. With your help we can continue to provide on the ground support, water testing capabilities, and timely information to the residents.
The chemical spilled into their only drinking water source was from a nearby storage tank on the Elk River. The incident was detected January 9th and was followed by a Do Not Use Drinking Water Order. The unsuspecting water treatment plant was unable to effectively remove the contaminated water and it was pumped to unsuspecting residences, medical facilities, and businesses.
After an investigation, government and water company staff flushed buried water distribution pipes and government buildings. Homeowners were advised to flush their residential plumbing systems by zone according to the guidelines endorsed by the Health Department. Depending on the zone, water was allowed to sit in the pipes for 4 to 7 days before the permission to flush was granted. While onsite, we interviewed some residents and found some had not flushed even after 17 days despite being given the order.
Two major unanswered questions:
- What were the chemical levels in building drinking water before and after residents flushed their plumbing systems (i.e., faucets, bathrooms, etc.)?
- What are the chemical levels in building drinking water 1 month after the spill?
Unfortunately, much of the drinking water testing data that has been reported -only- represents public locations, (i.e., hydrants, retail stores, etc.) and does not represent the drinking water inside homes.
Also, officials who responded to the Charleston community's incident have largely focused on monitoring the drinking water for a chemical called 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM), and had not published any other information about other chemicals present in the drinking water to date.
While the Do Not Use Water Order was lifted for the entire population, as residents flushed their plumbing systems many exhibited chemical exposure symptoms (i.e., nausea, dizziness). Then, after hearing from their friends and family members, community residents we spoke with refused to flush their plumbing systems at all.
The lack of scientific data for drinking water chemical levels inside affected homes is striking.
This project is needed to understand the chemical characteristics of water inside affected homes. Project results will also enable emergency officials to better plan for and respond to plumbing system contamination events.
PLEASE NOTE: The Microryza donation funded project is completely separate from our recent US National Science Foundation project. Our National Science Foundation project only pertains to testing we conduct on plastic pipe we buy in our laboratory, not the longer-term drinking water monitoring field work in affected homes.
What is the significance of this project?
There is little to -no- information regarding the chemical levels in contaminated drinking water before or after resident's flushed their plumbing system pipes. Longer-term drinking water plumbing system data for the affected community also does not yet exist. This project will help fill those needs.
Evidence from past chemical contamination incidents of drinking water piping systems has demonstrated that 9 months could be required to flush the chemicals away.
This project will help residents obtain information about...
We will collect and analyze the drinking water samples for 4-MCHM, in addition to a long list of other chemicals such as metals, volatile compounds, total organic carbon (TOC), water pH, disinfectant, and turbidity levels.
- The residential drinking water chemical levels before and after plumbing system flushing, and
- The residential drinking water chemical levels in those same plumbing systems 1 month after the spill.
These additional tests will help better describe drinking water quality than a single 4-MCHM test. To conduct these analysis we will use our equipment (GCMS, TOC analyzer, UV spectrophotometer, etc.) and also engage an independent 3rd party commercial laboratory. Students and I will conduct these tests and these are very common in our ongoing projects with the National Science Foundation
and Virginia Department of Transportation
Any funds donated that exceed the Microryza $10,000 goal will be dedicated to paying for the current water analysis and our stretch goals. Stretch goals are those that will enable this project to further help the Charleston community understand the consequences of the incident, specifically pertaining to the water inside their homes. For stretch goals, a 2nd drinking water sampling trip/community meeting would be held in Charleston, West Virginia and our students would be able to present these results at a National drinking water industry conference.
Our project will provide residents and public health officials a better understanding of the chemical levels in plumbing systems following a contaminated drinking water incident.
Officials could use this information to make better recommendations about what the population can do to protect themselves when flushing their plumbing system from chemical exposure.
Clearly, there is ample evidence that flushing according to the government backed guidance exposed homeowners to chemicals. This research is critically needed to identify chemical levels in the drinking water before and after flushing.
What are the goals of the project?
Any funds are greatly appreciated and will be used to benefit the Charleston community by the conduct of this project.
This work will be completed by our Environmental Engineering faculty as well as Environmental Engineering and Environmental Toxicology graduate students who have already visited Charleston, West Virginia and conducted many interviews with affected residents. We have also sampled the drinking water from residential plumbing systems in Cross Lanes, Downtown Charleston, Elk View, South Charleston, and Nellis.
We have a deep interest in helping the people affected by this event in their recovery.
The goal of this project is to quantify the drinking water chemical levels in residential plumbing systems affected by the chemical spill.
There is -no- data that describes drinking water quality in the affected residential plumbing systems.
Specifically we will,
(1) Conduct a 2nd trip to Charleston, West Virginia to
- Carry-out followup drinking water sampling in affected homes,
- Hold a public meeting in Charleston, West Virginia area to provide the public information about the results we obtained and a forum to answer questions,
- Analyze the newly collected drinking water, and write up the results, and
- Post the results on our blog
(2) [STRETCH GOAL] Recover some costs from analyzing water samples we collected during our 1st trip
January 16, 2014 (because we have no dedicated funding for those expenses)
(3) [STRETCH GOAL] Present results at a drinking water organization type conference
so that water companies and regulators can learn from this incident to prevent it from happening to other people.
The objectives above (1,2,3) will be completed in that order should donors be gracious to provide us more than $10,000. We would be eternally grateful for any donation. Please contact me (Andy Whelton) if you have any questions. Thank you.