CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is creating a large in-home testing project to assess the effects of the Freedom Industries chemical spill.
Tomblin allocated $650,000 for the state Testing Assessment Project, or WV TAP, that will go entirely to a team of independent experts.
"It is time to let the political officials step aside, and let the scientists come in and do the work that we need them to," Tomblin said during a Tuesday evening press conference.
Professor Andrew Whelton, an environmental engineer with the University of South Alabama, and Jeff Rosen, an environmental statistician and head of Corona Environmental Consulting, are leading the project team, which will start work immediately.
Whelton, accompanied by Corona's Jennifer Clancy, said the project aims to answer many of the remaining questions that continue to shake public confidence in the water.
"I drink the water here, I bathe in the water here, I believe it's safe for me," Whelton said.
"But there is a national and international discourse happening right now as to whether or not the water is safe in Charleston, West Virginia."
Officials believe at least 10,000 gallons of crude MCHM, a coal-washing chemical, and PPH leaked from two holes in a storage tank along the Elk River.
An unknown amount overwhelmed the West Virginia American Water treatment plant Jan. 9, leaving 300,000 West Virginians across nine counties without safe tap water.
Whelton said the WV TAP project will focus on three things: widespread in-home testing, analyzing crude MCHM's odor threshold and evaluating the existing 10-part-per-billion "non-detect" threshold with a panel of experts.
Whelton arrived in Charleston shortly after the spill with a team of students and others to conduct private testing. Since then, they have questioned the potential effects the chemicals could have in a home's pipes or water heaters.
Water pipes outside the home are typically made of different materials than those inside, he explained.
"Water utilities typically spend most of their efforts understanding materials that are in their system, not so much in people's homes," Whelton said.
Questions as to whether the chemicals can stick to pipes arose almost immediately after the spill. Those questions remain as multiple schools -- including Malden Elementary School Monday -- continue to show signs of the chemical more than a month after the spill.
West Virginia American Water President Jeff McIntyre and Dr. Letitia Tierney, state health officer and commissioner of the state Bureau for Public Health, have said they don't think the chemicals stick to pipes.
An official with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the same thing last week, citing a study. Whelton thinks he has seen the study and that it doesn't reference MCHM as the EPA official mentioned.
Whelton said he doesn't know if the chemical can stick to pipes, but said that will be one of the many aspects his team studies. The team will also look at how water temperature affects the chemical and whether it can stick in hot water heaters.