Area emergency rooms are seeing an influx of patients reporting symptoms related to exposure to chemical-tainted water, despite the fact that West Virginia American Water has deemed water in many areas safe to use.
Dr. Rahul Gupta, health officer for the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, said 101 patients visited area emergency rooms in the 36-hour span ending at 7 a.m. Wednesday morning.
They reported symptoms related to exposure to tainted water. He said 46 of those visits occurred between 7 p.m. Tuesday and 7 a.m. Wednesday.
"What we are seeing when we talk to our partners in hospital systems are people with skin and eye irritation, rashes, nausea, upset stomach and diarrhea," Gupta said.
All of those symptoms have been connected with exposure to crude MCHM, the chemical that leaked from a Freedom Industries storage tank Thursday into the Elk River, and then into West Virginia American Water's Charleston treatment plant a mile and a half downstream.
Gupta said many of those patients reported using water that was deemed safe to use by West Virginia American Water. As of Wednesday afternoon, the do-not-use order has been lifted for 51,600 of the 100,000 customers affected by the chemical spill.
Janet Briscoe, director of epidemiology and threat preparedness, said this data is based on data provided by patients. No diagnoses have been made directly correlating patients' symptoms to exposure to tap water.
Gupta stopped short of saying whether he thought the water supply in areas that have been cleared are safe or unsafe. He said he has "no reason to doubt" West Virginia American Water's recommendation that water is safe to use in zones that have been lifted from the do-not-use advisory.
After consulting with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state Bureau for Public Health released an advisory Wednesday night recommending "out of an abundance of caution" that pregnant women drink only bottled water "until there are no longer detectable levels of MCHM in the water distribution system.
"However, the CDC re-affirmed previous advice that it does not anticipate any adverse health effects from levels less than 1 ppm."
A letter from Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, states that the agency has been working with state and federal officials on water screening, testing and issues regarding public health.