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Water filter replacement project halfway complete

By Marcus Constantino, Multimedia reporter
DAILY MAIL FILE PHOTO
The process of replacing water filters at West Virginia American Water’s Charleston plant is more than halfway complete, officials announced Friday. The filters typically are changed out once every four years, but are being replaced now to allay any concern of lingering chemicals following the Jan. 9 contamination of the Elk River.

West Virginia American Water announced Friday the process of changing out the activated carbon filters in the company’s Charleston water treatment plant is more than halfway complete.

Laura Jordan, external affairs manager for West Virginia American Water, said eight of the plant’s 16 carbon filters have been replaced and are back in operation. Two additional filters were replaced as of Friday afternoon, and will be brought back online after testing and conditioning.

The process of changing the filters began April 1 in response to the Elk River chemical leak.

“We’re still running on schedule,” Jordan said. “We anticipate it to be a nine-week process.”

More than 10,000 gallons of a mixture of a coal-cleaning chemical, MCHM, and an additional chemical, PPH, seeped from a leaky tank at a Freedom Industries chemical storage facility along the Elk River that was discovered on Jan. 9. The broth of chemicals flowed under a deficient retaining wall designed to stop such leaks, down an embankment and into the icy waters of the Elk. About a mile downstream, the chemical-tainted water flowed into West Virginia American Water’s treatment plant intake, but plant operators thought the carbon filtration system would be able to filter the chemical out before it reached customers.

“We were fairly confident earlier today that our water treatment plant with the activated carbon treatment plant could handle any issues that we had, but it’s clear that that (chemical) has migrated through to our finished water,” West Virginia American Water president Jeff McIntryre told the Daily Mail on Jan. 9.

That prompted a water use ban for 100,000 West Virginia American Water customers across nine counties, covering about 15 percent of the state’s population. The ban was slowly lifted as West Virginia National Guard members and water company workers flushed fire hydrants throughout the 1,500-mile water system. The water ban lasted as many as nine days.

McIntyre told legislators at a hearing on Feb. 3 the water company would change its filters because of a “perception” issue, but that no MCHM was leaving the treatment plant. He said the change-out couldn’t happen until lower water flows allowed for taking filters offline to replace them.

Water samples collected by the state-contracted West Virginia Testing Assessment Project (WVTAP) team on March 18 indicated there were small amounts of MCHM — between 0.5 and 1 parts per billion (ppb) — in water collected from a home near the treatment plant. WVTAP used the Eurofins laboratory in Lancaster, Pa., which has a minimum detection limit for MCHM of 0.38 ppb. West Virginia American Water had been using REIC Laboratories in Beaver, W.Va., which has a minimum detection limit of 2 ppb.

West Virginia American Water confirmed WVTAP’s findings in testing performed on finished water from the plant on March 21 and 22. No MCHM was detected in water before filtration, indicating the MCHM was likely leaching from the filters, contrary to what the water company had said before.

“It is not unexpected that MCHM effectively captured in the filter material may show up in trace amounts in water leaving the plant,” McIntyre said when the new testing data was made public on March 25.

Jordan said West Virginia American Water continues to regularly collect samples every four hours, which are sent to REIC Laboratories for sampling. She said no MCHM has been detected through this regular testing since February 25.

Jordan added that after filters are replaced, they undergo a week-long conditioning process before they are brought back online. This includes sampling filtered water for MCHM at the Eurofins laboratory in Pennsylvania to ensure no traces of the chemical are left.

“It does add several days, but we are committed to our customers to get all traces (of MCHM) out,” Jordan said.

The filters are typically replaced in a four-year rotating cycle, but are all being replaced this year in response to the chemical leak at a cost of $1.1 million. Water in any of the 16 filters flows through 52,000 pounds of granular, activated carbon, then multiple layers of sand and gravel before chlorine and fluoride are added and the water is pumped out to customers.

Contact writer Marcus Constantino at 304-348-1796 or marcus.c@dailymailwv.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/amtino.


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