By Hayley M. Cook
WILLIAMSON – Has West Virginia finally recovered from one of the largest water chemical contamination incidents in the history of the United States?
That is the question many residents of the Mountain State may be pondering, due to the 2014 Elk River chemical spill, which polluted the drinking water in nine counties, including Logan County, which is situated right next door to Mingo County.
The spill occurred when 7,500 gallons of crude MCHM leaked from a one-inch hole in the bottom of a stainless steel storage tank at Freedom Industries’ Charleston facility.
Other incidents have also occurred, including earlier this year when 82,000 tons of toxic coal ash spilled into the Dan River, near the border of North Carolina and Virginia, from a pond at a closed Duke Energy power plant. The spill was so toxic that state health officials warned people not to swim in the river or eat fish from it.
Although many months have passed since both of these worrisome spills, many residents of West Virginia may still be wondering how clean their water actually is.
According to the website of Robert B. Jackson, an environmental scientist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, “The waste products we create to produce energy, and the waste we generate every day, are a threat to drinking water quality.”
In an area where coal is prevalent and vital to the economy, what does that mean for the very water we drink and bathe in?
Due to the fact that coal ash contains arsenic, mercury, lead, thallium and other dangerous contaminants, when coal ash is combined with water, a slurry is created that is highly dangerous to drink. However, many residents of West Virginia have consumed it, even at a fatal cost.
Massey Energy settled a case with hundreds of Southern West Virginia residents in 2011 after being accused of contaminating multiple water supplies by dumping more than one billion gallons of toxic coal slurry into worked-out underground coal mines between 1978 and 1987.
In spite of these events, there are some actions consumers may take to ensure the quality of their water is up to par.
For homes that use private water wells, there are no federal or state monitoring regulations, and it is the homeowner’s responsibility to make sure their well water is safe to drink. If a difference in the taste, smell, or color of well water is detected, a state-certified lab should be contacted to test the water supply.
On public or municipal water lines, water companies are required by law to monitor the water supply. In most cases, because of this monitoring, it could be assumed that the water meets federal standards. However, as noted, there have been many instances in which this has not been the case.
Those concerned about the safety of their water should consistently pay attention to the taste, smell and color to ensure everything seems normal.
For more information concerning the safety of water, consumers can contact their supplier and request a Consumer Confidence Report, which the supplier is required to provide.
The customer’s local water supplier can be contacted by visiting the company’s website or by calling the phone number on their water bill. Consumers can also ask for a test to be taken from their own faucet at home. Some suppliers will do this test free of charge, while others do not provide this service.
If any water supplier won’t test a customer’s water, they can find a state-certified lab by going to the EPA’s website or by testing the water on their own with a home test kit. Be aware that these kits can’t test for everything, but they can detect lead, arsenic, pesticides and bacteria.
Consumers may also invest in water purifying systems for their faucet, which also come in the form of pitchers, and help to remove inorganic compounds.
It does seem the main factor in ensuring drinking water is safe for the typical consumer consists of being aware. By paying attention to the quality of the water and updates from local water companies, consumers will have a head start on keeping themselves and their families safe in times of water-related emergencies.