CHARLESTON, W.Va. - West Virginia American Water President Jeff McIntyre is confident the procedure created to flush contaminated water out of homes is working.
By "working," he means the water going into homes contains less than 1 part per million of crude MCHM, he said.
"It wasn't intended as a flushing procedure to get rid of every bit of the taste or the odor of this water," he said Thursday evening before the House Health and Human Resources Committee, which is considering legislation created in the wake of the Freedom Industries chemical spill.
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More recently, people in the nine-county affected area have complained their water still smells like licorice, the telltale odor of crude MCHM. Additionally, Dr. Rahul Gupta, head of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, has said health complaints at hospitals spiked after people were told to flush.
At the time the flushing procedure was announced, McIntyre said it wouldn't eliminate the smell. Thursday, he said he couldn't comment on whether flushing caused negative side effects - including reported hospital visits - recently at local schools.
"I have no facts to connect them," McIntyre said, referencing the chemical leak, flushing at those schools and the reported ailments.
McIntyre was joined at the hearing by spokeswoman Laura Jordan and Kelley Goes, an attorney with local law firm Jackson Kelly. Goes, a former longtime aide to Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is helping represent the water company, Jordan said.
He said he's a numbers person, and he trusts the numbers provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
So does Dr. Letitia Tierney, state health officer and commissioner of the Bureau for Public Health.
Tierney told delegates she's using the water, but understands people's concerns. When asked if the water was safe, she said each person has a different definition of "safe."
She is confident people, including pregnant women, can safely use the water. She acknowledged the CDC advisory about pregnant women, but said she thinks it's been "misunderstood from the beginning."
The CDC advisory was always a guideline that was meant to "empower" pregnant women to make a decision, Tierney said, echoing comments made Wednesday by a CDC doctor. She said potentially susceptible populations were taken into account by the CDC in creating its 1 part per million level.
The CDC sent the advisory about pregnant women to the state days after it had accounted for such populations as one of its "safety" factors. The advisory, sent by CDC head Dr. Thomas Frieden, tells the state it might want to find a different drinking source for pregnant women.
Gupta and Tierney have differed on whether the water is safe. That's adding to public mistrust, said Delegate Meshea Poore, D-Kanawha, during an exchange that was cordial but testy.
Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, asked Tierney why two of the most visible public health officials can't agree if the water is safe.