Don't Drink the Water: W. Va. Should Have Warned Pregnant Women About Contaminant Danger

| by Allison Geller

Updates continue to leak from the West Virginia chemical spill scandal, in which two toxic coal-processing compounds were found to have contaminated a city’s water supply. The latest: pregnant women should have been warned not to drink the tap water.

Dr. Vikas Kapil, chief medical officer for the Center for Disease Control's National Center for Environmental Health, said that West Virginians should have been told not to think of the 1-part-per-million screening level of the toxic pollutant as a “bright line” between safe and dangerous.

Kapil also said that government officials should have been quicker to warn pregnant women to only drink bottled water until the chemical levels were at zero.

"It would have been probably preferable to provide that kind of information up front," Kapil said.

The contaminated water affected 300,000 residents of Charleston, who were without clean water for nine days (and may still be).

Kapil said that health officials have been doing all they can to test water and report to citizens.

"There are always things we can do to improve," he said. "It's a moving, dynamic situation where we really are doing the best we can."

 West Virginia American Water President Jeff McIntyre said Wednesday that “the majority of samples” tested clean of the chemical.

"In the areas where sample results show levels above the non-detectable limit, they are still extremely low and only a fraction of the CDC-established 1 ppm health-protective limit," McIntyre said.

The main contaminant, Crude MCHM, is a compound used to clean coal. No fatalities have been reported from the contamination—which wasn’t discovered until 12 days after the fact—but the long-term consequences of exposure are unknown.

Government officials have blamed Freedom Industries, the country responsible for the spill, for not reporting the event sooner. Randy Huffman, cabinet secretary for West Virginia's Department of Environmental Protection, called the late revelation “completely unacceptable.”

“Having to order them to provide such obvious information is indicative of the continued decline of their credibility,” he added in a news release.

Officials recently discovered that a second chemical, PPH, had also leaked into the water supply. Testing 30 samples, however, they found no sign of contamination. Only about 300 gallons of that substance leaked, compared to 7,500 gallons of Crude MCHM.

Sources: West Virginia Gazette,, Wall Street Journal