Gov. Tomblin says state of emergency is nearing its end
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After 40 days, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said he was eyeing an end to the state of emergency for the Freedom Industries chemical spill.
"We are looking at the end of the state of emergency," Tomblin said Tuesday following a press event at the state Capitol.
He said the state is ready to officially focus on recovery efforts.
He and state Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Karen Bowling also hope that effort includes more help from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The two penned a letter to Dr. Thomas Frieden, head of the CDC, to request more testing of crude MCHM and PPH, the chemicals that leaked from a faulty storage tank along the Elk River in early January and fouled tap water for 300,000 people.
"In addition, there is specific need to address ongoing population surveillance or monitoring," the letter states. "It is critical this study be funded and that work begins immediately."
A CDC official recently said there was no plan for medical monitoring, but Dr. Rahul Gupta, head of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, has repeatedly called for such a program.
He has also said repeatedly that long-term monitoring won't be cheap.
Tomblin and Bowling's letter stops short of calling on the CDC to pay for or conduct medical monitoring. Tomblin spokeswoman Amy Shuler Goodwin said the state is requesting "guidance" on how to conduct surveillance.
Tomblin said Tuesday he wasn't considering dipping into the state's Rainy Day Fund to pay for medical monitoring, despite calls from some lawmakers to do so.
"Not at this point and time," he said at the press event Tuesday. "I think there's a lot to learn, and we continue to learn more every day as we have the professionals out there doing tests and so forth.
"So that will be a decision that's made down the road."
Issues with public trust of the water supply, as well as the persistent odor of crude MCHM in some places, played a role in the lengthy state of emergency, Tomblin said.
Many have also reported symptoms like burning eyes, headaches and dry or itchy skin. Officials can't say whether those symptoms are in fact related to the chemical.
Tomblin already has called on professor Andrew Whelton, an environmental engineer with the University of South Alabama, and his team of consultants to begin testing tap water from a sample of homes in the ninecounty affected area.
Whelton and his team, which includes Corona Environmental Consulting, will receive up to $650,000 for the work. The state of emergency allowed the state to forgo competitive bidding, Tomblin said.
"We were trying to get as much help and as much information to people as we possibly could and in as quick a timeframe as we could," he said.
The contract calls on the consultant to evaluate healthscreening standards for contaminated water, evaluate aesthetic characteristics like odor and taste and develop a plan for inhome testing.
Work costs are assessed at an hourly rate. The contract lists 12 different job titles and the pay rate for each.
A senior researcher will receive $250 per hour, compared to $150 for an engineer. "Data entry" is the lowest-paying job in the contract. It nets $50 per hour.
The consultants will provide an update Friday on how the testing is going.
Lifting the state of emergency won't affect water distribution sites or the state's appeal of a recent decision by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to deny payment for some costs associated with the spill.
West Virginia American Water continues to purchase the water being distributed. Tomblin said he hasn't received any word from the company as to when it might stop.
"More and more people are going back to using their tap water as time goes on," Tomblin said.
"So it would be my hope that as long as the tank water is necessary, that West Virginia American would continue to supply that water for people."
Last week Tomblin announced FEMA had denied the state's request for reimbursement for some response efforts. FEMA said it didn't feel the costs were beyond the state's ability to cover.
An appeal of that decision is ongoing.
"What we needed was additional solid numbers, we have attained those numbers from the state agencies involved," Tomblin said.
The state is still waiting for cost estimates from county emergency services and school board officials. Tomblin said he hoped to have them by the end of the week. Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.