CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Hoping to restore confidence in the safety of the water supply, Charleston Mayor Danny Jones plans to ask city council to fund testing of tap water for homes and some businesses in the city.
Jones told the Daily Mail Monday he would ask council members at Tuesday's meeting to allow him to line up funding and experts to conduct the tests.
Many remain wary of tap water more than a month after crude MCHM and PPH leaked from a Freedom Industries storage tank and into the Elk River just above West Virginia American Water Co.'s main intake. The leak prompted a do-not-use order for more than 300,000 people in nine counties.
Requests for bottled and bulk water remain after the Jan. 9 incident.
"We're going to have to devote some resources to this to prove that our water's OK," Jones said. "We're going to have to be able to prove to people that our brand is OK and to do that we're going to have to test some of this water."
Jones' plan is to test a sample of homes in each of the city's 21 wards. Hotels would also be allowed to request testing.
Schools fall under the jurisdiction of the Kanawha County Board of Education and will not be tested with city funds, Jones said.
Grandview Elementary School in North Charleston dismissed early as a precaution Monday after a slight licorice odor was reported and two school employees complained of related symptoms, according to a statement from Ron Duerring, superintendent of Kanawha County Schools.
No students were affected.
A Rapid Response Team, made up of individuals from the school system, National Guard, Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, state Department of Environmental Protection, and the county Emergency Operations Center, went to the Woodward Drive school Monday to re-flush and re-test the water.
That team would return today as staff arrives, Duerring said.
Classes at the North Charleston school were expected to resume today.
Jones didn't want to speculate on how much testing would cost. He said the total figure would depend on the per-home rate.
"It's going to cost a lot of money but we've got to get past this," Jones said.
The mayor said he is drinking the water but knows people who aren't. He worries that the chemical leak has caused serious damage to the city's economy. When asked if he thought the leak had affected tourism he said he was sure it had.
"It's going to affect us financially," he said. "It's going to be devastating and it's going to be with us for a long time.
"I've wondered if the people that own that Freedom Industries even have a conscience for the damage they've caused. I couldn't sleep at night if I caused this type of damage to the community."
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced last week that the state would conduct a large in-home testing project to determine the effects of the leak. He set aside $650,000 for the team of independent experts involved with the state Testing Assessment Project, also known as WV TAP.
The project would focus on three things: widespread in-home testing, evaluating the existing 10-part-per-billion "non-detect" threshold with experts and analyzing crude MCHM's odor threshold.
WV TAP will start with a pilot study of 10 homes, one in each affected county except for Kanawha where there will be two homes to be tested. The widespread testing will begin after the group has the results of the pilot study, which was expected to take about three weeks.
Tomblin initially wasn't on board with the idea of in-home testing but said last week it could help restore confidence and provide answers for the future.
"The way I look at this, this is not just a West Virginia problem," Tomblin said last week. "To have an incident such as this, it's something that could happen all over the country."
Jones said he's only one vote in city council and that he wanted to "feel out" the other council members to see where they stood on the issue before talking about solid testing plans.
Charleston City Council's regular Monday meeting was moved to 7 p.m. Tuesday in observance of President's Day. Council meets in City Hall.
Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at ashley.cr...@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-4850.