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WV legislators hear from Homeland Security official on water situation

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According to the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security, roughly 20 million bottles of water have been delivered to the Mountain State since a chemical spill tainted the state's water supply.

Jimmy Gianato, director of Emergency Management with Homeland Security, said 456 trailer loads of water from the Federal Emergency Management Agency was delivered as a result of the Freedom Industries Jan. 9 chemical spill into the Elk River.

He said since Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin asked FEMA Jan. 30 to continue sending water even after the "do not use" order had been lifted, roughly 20 additional truck loads have been provided.

"This response has been ongoing for several weeks and will continue to go on," Gianato said. 

Some legislators on Friday questioned the responsibilities of Homeland Security and the reason why samples of the crude MCHM were only being taken by federal officials because West Virginia officials might be able to use the information to respond to future disasters. 

Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, asked why the material at the site was not being gathered for sampling — at least for the coal industry to know about the chemical it is working with.

"We've never had a call like this before," Gianato said. "We haven't had complains from the coal industry."

The testing being done on water leaving the West Virginia American Water treatment plant is being done at 2 parts per billion.

Gianato said the reason the testing is being done at 1 part per million in schools and other facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes is because it takes 40 minutes to do those tests as opposed to the two to three hours it takes to test the water at 10 parts per billion, which is the non-detect level for the chemical.

The West Virginia National Guard is taking care of testing the water at West Virginia American Water.

"They had to work with chemists in the labs to develop the test to test this product in water," Gianato said. "EPA validated and improved on the process that was developed and that's the process they're using in the labs today."

Officials, from the beginning of the situation, have said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggestion of 1 part per million is an "acceptable level," and anything less than that is classified as useable. 

Gianato said children getting sick in schools might not be connected to the chemical spill. However, teachers and children have complained about the symptoms correlated with the chemical, which include burning eyes and nausea. 

"The odor threshold is considerably less than safe levels," Gianato said. "So you're going to smell it long after a safe level."