Some question safety of West Virginia tap water after ‘all clear’

BY newsdesk  January 17, 2014 at 7:10 PM EDT

Flickr user Joe Cheng

Despite an official “all clear” for most Kanawha Valley, West Virginia residents to resume drinking from their taps, some recent incidents have raised questions about whether the water is actually safe to use.

Many residents reported the licorice smell that had been common during the ban was still present after the all clear. On Thursday, Dr. Elizabeth Brown, who practices medicine in the area, told Al Jazeera America that several of her patients came in with skin rashes after exposure to water while showering or washing hands. West Virginia’s Charleston Gazette reported similar symptoms from residents who resumed using their water after the ban was lifted. The Gazette also quoted Dr. Rahul Gupta, chief officer for the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, saying that 101 people had reported to local emergency rooms between Monday and Wednesday, with symptoms of upset stomach, diarrhea and vomiting as well as skin irritation.

Adding to the concerns, Thursday the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources advised pregnant women to continue drinking bottled water instead of returning to the tap.

Levels of the chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM) that spilled into the state’s Elk River dropped to one-part-per-million, which is below the Centers for Disease Control’s safety standard. Officials stated that water should be safe to drink if the chemical is diluted enough. However, Dr. Gupta told CNN that there were “a lot of unknowns about this potential chemical that have the chance to do some harm to humans,” because studies about MCHM are sparse.

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources plans to monitor those who fell ill for future health problems, the Charleston Gazette reports.