Independent researchers commissioned by the state of West Virginia hosted a briefing Friday to discuss their in-home testing program.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin chose Dr. Andrew Whelton, of the University of South Alabama, and Jeffrey Rosen, of Corona Environmental Consulting, to spearhead the West Virginia Testing Assessment Project. The program focuses on the chemical spill and ensuing water crisis that hit the region last month.
"This should have been tested 10 years ago," Whelton said, referring to the need for more federal studies on chemicals.
Environmental regulators discovered a massive chemical leak Jan. 9. They say more than 10,000 gallons of crude MCHM leaked from a tank at Freedom Industries. The chemical seeped into the Elk River, contaminating the drinking water of nearly 300,000 people in nine counties.
Rosen said the group had completed its initial testing cycle Wednesday, which consists of 10 homes. Scientists took 90 samples from each home, testing both hot and cold water sources from kitchen taps and bathtubs. A total of 600 samples will be sent to labs for analysis; 300 samples will be stored just in case.
The purpose of this initial sampling is to build a framework for a larger sampling process, according to Rosen. The leaders said they hope to test hundreds of homes in the future. One major goal on the horizon is to assemble a panel of experts to examine the "odor" threshold of crude MCHM.
Both Rosen and Whelton said they periodically detected the now-infamous black licorice odor associated with crude MCHM throughout the region. Local officials, including West Virginia American Water President Jeff McIntyre, has said crude MCHM has a low "odor threshold"--meaning very little amounts of MCHM can give off a smell. Extensive research to prove this theory has not been released to the public.
"Crude MCHM was never meant to be in anybody's drinking water," Rosen said.
Dr. Whelton had previously announced the experts would collect samples from each county affected by the water crisis. He announced Friday that his team could not find eligible participants in Jackson County for various reasons. Whelton also mentioned the first 10 participated had been selected before sampling began Feb. 12. The professor later clarified he sought help searching for volunteers because some commitments fell through.
The public knows almost nothing about those who participated in the study. Whelton said these people signed a waiver that said WVTAP would withhold personal information from the media. The agreement did not stop participants from contacting the media, Whelton said.
"I would also expect that representatives of the media would try not to seek these individuals out and get them on camera because they wish to have their privacy," Whelton said.
The professor admitted he now drinks the tap water in West Virginia, although he claims he did not during the days following the spill. So what changed?
"I have more information," Whelton said. "I probably have more information than a lot of you and a lot of the public and I have more information, I've spent more time pouring over the records, more time talking with scientists."
The team has yet to release detailed information or test results from initial sampling. Rosen said it would be "irresponsible" to post the numbers without analyzing them first. Researchers have received some of the results from last week's testing, according to Whelton.
Both men promised to post the results to their website as soon as possible.
"The whole purpose of what we're trying to do is transparency and provide the public information," Whelton said.
Gov. Tomblin first announced funding for the project would start at $650,000. Rosen said they requested an additional $112,000, saying the new dollars would cover unanticipated costs. The state granted the team's request, according to Amy Shuler Goodwin, a spokesperson for Gov. Tomblin.
Rosen said the team will hopefully provide additional updates within the next two weeks.
Dr. Andrew Whelton and Jeffrey Rosen, the leaders of an independent study commissioned by the State of West Virginia to look into the MCHM spill and ensuing water crisis, hosted a briefing Feb. 21 to update their progress.
Rosen said the group has completed sample taking in all 10 initial homes. Each home had 90 samples taken from both hot and cold water sources. A total of 600 samples will be taken for testing, with 300 being held in case samples are broken during transportation.
The purpose of this initial sampling is to build a framework for a larger sampling process, according to Rosen.
The project had a starting cost of $650,000 and now the team is requesting an additional $112,000 saying the additional cost would cover unanticipated costs.
The panel of experts mentioned by Whelton in his first press conference is still forming but should be complete in the next few weeks. The panel will focus on determining the risks of MCHM exposure.
Some of the results from the testing are being held while the study analyzes the data. It may be several weeks before they release results.