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Scientists report small amount of chemicals found during home tests

By Dave Boucher, Capitol Bureau Chief

Each of the 10 homes tested by state-funded researchers showed very small amounts of the main chemical believed to have spilled into the Elk River in early January, at the time contaminating tap water for 300,000 people.

Professor Andrew Whelton of the independent West Virginia Testing Assessment Project, or WV TAP, announced all of those tests showed results at 6 parts per billion or less. That’s significantly lower than the 1 part per million (1,000 ppb) level the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes can be in the water without causing negative health effects.

The samples were collected from 10 homes that covered most of the nine-county area affected by the water contamination. The samples were collected between Feb. 11 and Feb. 18, about one month after the state discovered thousands of gallons of chemicals leaking from a faulty storage tank owned by Freedom Industries.

About 30 people -- mostly media and activists -- are attending the announcement event today, on the campus of West Virginia State University.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin hired the WV TAP group at a cost of $762,000 after consistent public calls for more tests of homes and the chemicals involved in the leak.

Chuck Neslund of Eurofins labs, one of the labs helping with the WV TAP project, is testing the actual material that’s believed to have leaked from the tank.

“The 4-MCHM appears to be the only compound of interest that we are currently detecting in the house samples,” Neslund said at the event.

Mike McGuire, a California-based scientist, also reviewed results from testing previously released that he says confirms West Virginians’ complaints that they could smell the telltale licorice odor of MCHM after West Virginia American Water Co. said there were no chemicals detected leaving its plant.

Whelton and others involved in the project agree more testing and study is needed. The team will outline a design for a large scale in-home testing plan, a health effects panel and other research they’re conducting during today’s event.

At a Tuesday event, the researchers will critique the federal safe level established for one of the chemicals in the drinking water.

Check the Capitol Notebook blog for live updates from the event, or follow writer Dave Boucher on Twitter.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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