January 31, 2014

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Detectable amounts of the coal-cleaning chemical Crude MCHM from the leak into the Elk River and the West Virginia American Water pipelines earlier this month have been found in three Kanawha County schools, as well as one each in Lincoln and Putnam counties.

George Washington High School, John Adams Middle School and Andrews Heights Elementary School’s water systems will be flushed again this weekend, according to Kanawha County Schools officials. Detectable levels of the chemical also were found in Buffalo High School and Lincoln County High School.

The detected levels are all well below the 1-part-per-million level of MCHM the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said is safe for everyone but pregnant women, but above the state’s “non-detect” level of 10 parts per billion. One part per million equals 1,000 parts per billion.

Schools in Kanawha County are still supplying students with bottled water and are using bottled water in all food preparation. Water fountains are covered with bags and there is hand sanitizer in all the bathrooms.

The West Virginia National Guard conducted water tests this week at all 69 schools in Kanawha County, as well as affected schools in Putnam, Boone, Lincoln, Cabell and Clay counties. All the tests were conducted between Tuesday and Friday.

George Washington tested at 10 parts per billion, John Adams at 12 parts per billion, Andrews Heights at 19 parts per billion, Buffalo High at 52 parts per billion and Lincoln High at 24 parts per billion, according to results provided by the state.

As of 6 p.m. Friday, no result was given for 13 of the 107 schools listed. The rest of the schools showed a “non-detect” level below 10 parts per billion.

Test results were provided from only one lab for each sample. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s administration has been giving results from two labs for most of the tests it has made public.

The test results were posted on the state Division of Homeland Security’s website Friday afternoon, after Kanawha County Schools officials told news outlets they had detected elevated levels.

Asked if he expected schools to be open Monday, Kanawha Superintendent Ron Duerring said, “There’s no reason why we couldn’t.  . . . We have to go through the [water-pipe flushing] protocols again and the Kanawha County health department will come and check us out again.”

George Aulenbacher, principal at George Washington High, said he “was just told that it was a higher level and that they’re just going to reflush and retest.

“We’re going to keep [using bottled water] until we get the all-clear from the Central Office,” he said, “but I don’t see that being any time in the near future.”

By Mackenzie Mays and David Gutman