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Schools in Kanawha County begin to use tap water

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - For the first time since the Freedom Industries chemical spill, Kanawha County schools will use tap water for drinking and cooking.

For almost two months, schools kept drinking fountains covered and provided bottled water for students, but that will come to an end once school resumes after the recent harsh weather.

The decision came Friday - the same day Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin lifted a state of emergency that lasted 51 days.

Tomblin said he believes the nine affected counties are now in a "state of recovery."

Though the decision has been met with skepticism, there are other indicators that the worst of the water crisis may have passed.

Tomblin requested additional tests for traces of crude MCHM at more than 100 schools. All but one school came back at non-detect levels at a 2 parts per billion screening level. H.E. White Elementary in Clay County was the only school to have traces of MCHM, and it was right at 2 parts per billion. The National Guard re-flushed the school and surrounding hydrants before retesting.

A water sample was taken from a kitchen sink Saturday and tests showed non-detect levels.

The screening level is stricter than Tomblin's initial 10 parts per billion level and 500 times more protective than the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 1 part per million recommendation. Because crude MCHM has not been detected at the strict screening levels, Kanawha County school officials felt comfortable lifting the ban on tap water.

The state Department of Education is leaving the decision to each county. Spokeswoman Liza Cordeiro said the state department has not made an official decision for each school system, but has guided counties to assess the water situation and work with local health departments to make a decision.

Kanawha County Superintendent Ron Duerring said parents who do not want their children using tap water will need to send a note to their principal or teacher. He said parents were notified by an automated phone call Friday evening so they had the weekend to get supplies.

Bottled water will remain available for those students as long as supplies last.

Some parents are upset they weren't notified before Friday that the decision was coming. Karan Ireland, a freelance marketer and mother of two Kanawha County students, organized Citizens Actively Protecting the Environment and is encouraging members to push the county to provide bottled water for the remainder of the year.

She said she doesn't know many people who drink tap water at home or who would let their children drink it at school.

"Had they given parents the opportunity to organize, we could have taken an inventory of the remaining bottled water and mobilized donation drives to bring in more," Ireland said. "There are a lot of things we could have done, and I think they deliberately didn't give us the opportunity."

Ireland said she and members of her advocacy group are frustrated their concerns are not being taken seriously.

"It seems like it falls on deaf ears," she said.

Ireland's children attend John Adams Middle and Overbrook Elementary, two schools that have experienced lingering problems from the chemical spill.

Traces of the chemical were detected at John Adams at the 10 parts per billion screening level on Jan. 28, and Overbrook Elementary closed Feb. 6 because of dizzying, licorice-like odors.

Ireland said her children will bring their own lunches and bottled water for the foreseeable future.

Her group formed in January after the chemical leak affected 300,000 Charleston-area residents' drinking water. The group has about 200 active members.

Contact writer Samuel Speciale at sam.speciale@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-4886. Follow him at twitter.com/wvschools.


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