West Virginia Water Safety

Zintro_WaterThe January 9 chemical spill in West Virginia that destroyed the drinking water of over 300,000 people has brought the need for stringent regulation to the forefront. There are thousands of chemical storage sites in the U.S., many of which are near water supplies. Residents in nine West Virginia counties were ordered not to use municipal water for drinking, cooking, or bathing as a result of the contamination that occurred when 7,500 gallons of a coal processing chemical leaked from a tank near the Banner River. This happened upstream of a treatment plant for the West Virginia division of American Water Works Co. Democratic Senator Jay Rockerfeller of West Virginia quickly announced the need for immediate legislative action.

The clean-up process for such a contamination is intensive. Richard Polak is an environmental engineer and expert on water and wastewater management. “You are looking at a large investment to clean up the contaminated water to be treated to reach a potable drinking water quality. It requires such data as a detailed water analysis to include all organics and inorganics and maximum service flow of contaminated water to be treated in 24 hours per day or the number of hours per day of treatment just for starters.”

Chemist Vadim Malkov, PhD is an expert on water analysis instrumentation. “The [in West Virginia] reminds me of similar cases in Colorado. The response was not trivial. The responsible entity was ordered to pay a fine and then they petitioned to supply source water monitoring equipment instead. The town that suffered from the spill has benefited from the situation in a strategic manner – now they can detect contamination in their drinking water supply early on. The approach of the guilty party should be considered proactive and responsibleand such practice should be expanded.”

Federal health officials deemed the water safe February 5. According to the AP, Dr. Tanjua Popovic, acting director of the National Center for Environmental Health and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry announced, “You can drink it. You can bathe in it. You can use it how you like.”  Residents are still concerned.
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