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Survey to expose lasting chemical leak effects on county residents

By Andrea Lannom, Legal affairs writer

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha-Charleston Health Department officials hope a phone survey will provide a “snapshot” of the psychological, social and economic effects from the Freedom Industries chemical leak.

Officials originally hoped to study affected areas in nine counties but had to scale back the study to focus only on Kanawha County, said Dr. Rahul Gupta, Kanawha-Charleston executive director.

The problem was funding, he said.

Gupta said the department mostly sought funding from the National Science Foundation but later looked into grants from the National Institutes of Health. Time proved to be a big challenge though, because NIH disaster grants require an application to be submitted within six weeks of an incident.

He said the lack of funding was “eye opening.”

“As an agency, we were still responding during those six weeks,” he said in reference to the time frame for the NIH grants.

“We didn’t have time to go back and think about community research. By the time we got around to some time to think about taking a breather and look at what happened here, the time period for the NIH grant was passed already.”

Officials first sought $75,000 from the National Science Foundation but have since scaled back the scope of their program and likely won’t have a cost estimate until later.

He said the phone study should still provide a good sample.

“We came to the point a few weeks ago where we said, ‘Without the anticipated funding, what are we going to do?’ There’s only a certain period of time when people can accurately recall events.

“The decision had to be made whether we were going to capture the impact on the community or not,” he said.

Health department officials developed a 20- to 25-minute phone survey and will work off a list of 6,000 random cellphone and landline numbers. He noted questions were developed and validated with scientific methodology.

Gupta hopes the study will also shed light on how the chemical spill affected people’s trust.

Training for volunteers, who will be making the calls, started Thursday afternoon. Volunteers started gathering information later that night and will continue to do so through the weekend. Gupta said he hopes the study will conclude by Tuesday evening.

After that, academic partners will help officials analyze the data. Kanawha-Charleston has partnered with Roxane Cohen Silver from the University of California, Irvine. Gupta noted that Silver also has studied 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombings.

The health department also has partnered with David Latif from the University of Charleston.

Gupta said he hopes to share results of the study in 30 days.

“We hope in the end, we can both provide the element of knowledge and understand to the community to what we feel was the human impact of the water crisis . . . and also contribute to the scientific community of what can happen when you have a large-scale water contamination.”

Volunteers will conduct calls from the department from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and will be back Monday and Tuesday at 8 a.m.

Contact writer Andrea Lannom at Andrea.Lannom@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-5148. Follow her at www.twitter.com/AndreaLannom.


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