NINE COUNTIES OF WV GUINEA PIGS: Brockovich, Others Advise Don't Drink, Use or Pay for the Water; There's no All Clear

Updated 6 years ago by Tony E. Rutherford, News Editor
NINE COUNTIES OF WV  GUINEA PIGS: Brockovich, Others Advise Don't Drink, Use or Pay for the Water; There's no All Clear

Speaking at the WCHS forum on the MCHM water crisis, environmental activist Erin Brockovich has emphasized that the chemical leak slipped through "loopholes" that did not include above ground chemical tanks. The WV DEP tried to bring them under some regulation through enforcement of stormwater programs. "Somebody somewhere is not telling the truth," Brockovich stressed, adding, that West Virginia will become a "poster child" both for what not to do and what to do in a water emergency

Concerning allegations of formaldehyde in the water, Bob Bobcock, an investigator for Brockovich, stated that the longer the MCHM remains in the water system, the more compounds that can occur. Although formaldehyde has been mentioned as a break down by product , he said, "you are talking about thousands" of chemicals. He told consumers that they have a "contract" with WV American Water for "source drinking water assessment."  ( A report for Huntington carries a 2003 date.

Bottom line: Brockovich and other consumer advocates have essentially told victims of the spill to organize by neighborhood and community and march on Charleston to advocate change. Meantime, "there's no all clear" Brockovich emphasized stressing, along with attorney Harry Bell that  300,000 water users are now "human guinea pigs" for both drinking, bathing, and inhalation of the chemicals in the water and their by-products. It's greater than don't drink the water, it's don't use it and don't pay the bills. Advising folks to "stay angry and stay frustrated," she advised she would return to march on the State Capitol, if one is organized. "Politicians have to get out of bed with industry," she said.


Supported by Brockovich, Dr. Rahl Gupta, executive director of the Kanawha/Charleston Health Dept.,  has asked for "as soon as possible" federal monitoring of those exposed to the chemicals in the water." He goes on to add, "We're the first humans this chemical has been tested on." He caution that children absorb water quicker than adults so they should not be "exposed" to the liquid.

Gupta took a lead in advising that too many unanswered health questions are being ignored. He asked for immediate health monitoring of all 300,000 water users. His figure does not include potential users that may have been exposed when the plume flowed down river, especially since Randy Huffman, secretary of the WV DEP, admitted that it is unknown how long the chemical had been leaking into the water supply.

Dr. Gupta explained that the "one part per million" and "one part per billion"  safety factors came from West Virginia American Water.  Origination of the standard was confirmed by Huffman who verified that "testing protocols had been put together by the water company."

Dr Gupta
Dr Gupta

When asked why hospitals in Kanawha County use WVAW, Dr. Gupta explained that "every safety factor" and "transparency" need to be visible from the earliest stage of the emergency. The earlier choices "become the foundation for whether the water is safe or not safe." No one in the meeting audience expressed confidence in the current safety of the water.

The health department director explained it represents  calculated medical estimates since this chemical has not been in human drinking water and prior tests have not been on humans. "I’ve seen people suffering as a consequence of the water every single day. We want to have surveillance and monitoring available at local health departments. We don’t know what (will happen), but  People have been exposed." 

He cautioned that individuals with compromised immune systems, as well as pregnant women and children, should likely not drink or use the water at this time.

"We need to hold agencies to the fire when regulations are developed," Gupta said, adding that state, federal and local officials should be involved from the beginning of an incident. He singled out West Virginia American Water for not sending a representative to the town hall. "It's unacceptable that the water company is not answering questions," he said. Describing himself as both a consumer and a professional, the physician, he stated that the water company should be "forced" to provide answers.

NINE COUNTIES OF WV  GUINEA PIGS: Brockovich, Others Advise Don't Drink, Use or Pay for the Water; There's no All Clear

Bobcock indicated that the water company --- based on documents available --- has not updated its source water reports since 2002. He accused them of providing a "xerox," rather than testing. He expressed disdain for the flushing procedures utilized by the water company, suggesting that the water company's system must first be cleaned otherwise consumer systems will continue to accumulate MCMH and its by products, particularly in hot water tanks. The amount of this chemical likely destroyed your home water treatment system," Bobcock said.

He explained that when Erin and he came to town two weeks ago, WV American Water "was unresponsive even to us." At that time, "We offered our assistance. There needs to be a systematic flushing, which does not mean opening fire hydrants and returning the chemical back to the river through the stormwater system. It means literally going out and inspecting the tanks , isolating zones, and flushing through activated carbon with the capacity to remove the chemical once and for all."  He continued, "they keep pointing the finger in a big circle. I've never seen such a mishandled emergency in my life."

Secretary Huffman pointed to the state health department regulates safe drinking water so it would have authority over the utility. 

Bobcock responded, "If I was the regulatory engineer over WV American Water Company , 21 days ago  I'd have been knocking on the door saying you guys are out, my guys are in. Have a nice day."

Charleston Mayor Danny Jones has compared the incident to "9/11."  "I'm bewildered. It's the worse thing that has happened in my lifetime,' stating it reminds him of the terrorist attacks. When asked about continuing the bottled drinking water give a ways, he suggested that Governor Tomblin's office be notified.

Questions also related to legislation passed by the WV Senate. Sen. Unger , responding to the many "exemptions" amended to the original bill, explained that many of those asking for an "exemption" are covered by other regulations. The bill is intended to regulate those not regulated.


Interestingly, Brockovich stressed the nine counties impacted by the spill are not the only people impacted in such contamination catastrophes. She said they occur all over the country. For that matter, for HNN readers, you only have to reflect on the Cold War Veterans radiation exposure. They patriotically protected the country's secrets, but they were exposed to what would become life threatening and/or life ending materials without first being told of the risks.

Following the town hall which was streamed on the internet and extended by half an hour, Brockovich stated on Facebook: "I was honored to be asked to be a part of the panel at the West Virginia Water Crisis Meeting at the Town Hall tonight. The folks of West Virginia are fantastic and are standing up and using their voices! What a shame West Virginia America water was a no show.....Their absence and their silence says it all! You can watch the broadcast here if you couldn't get to the meeting:



Comments powered by Disqus