West Virginia water restrictions trickling away

Photo by Ty Wright/The Washington Post

Many, but not all West Virginia residents affected by the recent chemical spill can resume drinking tap water. Photo by Ty Wright/The Washington Post

As chemical levels drop to below the Centers for Disease Control’s one-part-per-million safety standard, West Virginia officials have lifted the ban on drinking tap water for many but not all affected residents, according to a Reuters report.

The restrictions, which began after thousands of gallons of a chemical called 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM) spilled from a Freedom Industries storage tank into the Elk River on Jan. 9, originally applied to around 300,000 people. More than 200,000 have been cleared to start drinking tap water again.

Pregnant women, however, were advised Thursday by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources to continue to drink bottled water.

A letter from the CDC’s director, Thomas Frieden, to the secretary of the department, Karen Bowling, said that previous studies on the effects of MCHM had only been done on animals but that calculations were done with various safety factors in order to reach the one-part-per-million standard.

“However, due to limited availability of data, and out of an abundance of caution, you may wish to consider an alternative drinking water source for pregnant women until the chemical is at non-detectable levels in the water distribution system.”

The Charleston Gazette, which serves the area disturbed by the spill, contacted Friedman but could get no further comments.