Anticipating a large influx of calls after a recommendation regarding pregnant women, the state Poison Center asked the National Guard to help field calls Thursday.
Dr. Elizabeth Scharman said a handful of National Guard members worked in the Poison Center Thursday alongside the eight poison specialists who normally staff phones at the Kanawha City office. The Guard members are qualified medical personnel, she said, and are taking calls only from those with water concerns.
Call volume has increased since the state Bureau for Public Health on Wednesday night issued an advisory recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers drink only bottled water until there are no detectable levels of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, or crude MCHM, in the water distribution system.
She said there are a multitude of people who are concerned, thinking that if it's not safe for a pregnant woman, then it's not safe for anyone, but she pointed out that pregnant women are routinely advised to avoid caffeine, lunchmeat and other foods regularly ingested by the public.
"We just take an abundance of caution with that population," she said.
Scharman said that as of 9 a.m. Thursday, the Poison Center had taken 1,549 calls regarding human exposure to contaminated water, 79 calls regarding animal exposure and 275 calls for information since the do-not-use order was handed down Jan. 9.
The center also received more than 600 unrelated poison calls during that time.
Thursday was expected to be a bit more hectic at the Poison Center after the Bureau of Public Health's recommendation. Scharman said specialists from 9 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Thursday received 50 percent more calls per hour.
"(Thursday) with the updated announcement from the CDC that understandably caused concern in the community (Wednesday), we're doing everything we can to avoid people getting a busy signal," Scharman said.
She said when the do-not-use order was first issued, all of the center's poison specialists were called in to work, and on Jan. 10, they called in more specialists using a backup personnel system for disaster planning.