Pregnant women warned off West Virginia water in cleared areas

Thu Jan 16, 2014 8:42am EST

By Karen Brooks
    Jan 16 (Reuters) - West Virginia officials said Thursday
they have lifted a ban on drinking tap water for two-thirds of
the customers affected by a chemical spill, but warned pregnant
women to avoid it until the chemical is completely flushed from
the pipes.
    One week after the spill into the Elk River prompted
authorities to order some 300,000 people not to drink or wash
with their tap water, officials have cleared more than 200,000
of them to start drinking the water again after tests showed
levels below the 1 part per million level safety standard set by
the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
    But pregnant women should continue to steer clear of the
water in an "abundance of caution" until the chemical is
completely undetectable, West Virginia American Water said.
    The company said the CDC had advised there is still a
"limited availability of data" on whether pregnant woman are
more susceptible and advised that state water officials
"consider an alternative drinking water source for pregnant
women until the chemical is at non-detectable levels in the
water distribution system."
    The state attorney general, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board
and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia
are investigating the Jan. 9 leak of about 7,500 gallons (28,000
liters) of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, or crude MCHM, into the
river.
    Officials ordered water use halted for everything but
flushing toilets after the leak from a storage tank owned by
Freedom Industries, a maker of specialty chemicals.
    The Freedom Industries site has not been inspected since
1991 and is about a mile (1.6 km) upstream from a West Virginia
American Water plant, the biggest in the state. Crude MCHM is
used in washing coal and Freedom Industries has apologized for
the incident.
    Downstream from the spill, the Northern Kentucky Water
District and the Greater Cincinnati Water Works have shut their
intakes on the Ohio River as a precaution.
    Water tainted by crude MCHM smells faintly of licorice.
Contact with the water can cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness,
diarrhea, rashes and reddened skin.
    West Virginia American Water is a unit of American Water
Works Co Inc.
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