Charleston ER Visits Spike
Spill symptoms reported after water ban lifted
Charleston Daily Mail
14 January 2014
By Marcus Constantino, Daily Mail staff
CHARLESTON — Area emergency rooms are seeing an influx of patients
reporting symptoms related to exposure to chemical-tainted water,
despite the fact that West Virginia American Water has deemed
water in many areas safe to use.
Rahul Gupta, health officer for the Kanawha-Charleston Health
Department, said 101 patients visited area emergency rooms in the
36-hour span ending at 7 a.m. Wednesday, reporting symptoms
related to exposure to tainted water. He said 46 of those
allegedly water-related emergency room visits occurred between 7
p.m. Tuesday and 7 a.m. Wednesday.
“What we are seeing when we talk to our partners in hospital
systems are people with skin and eye irritation, rashes, nausea,
upset stomach and diarrhea,” Gupta said.
All of those symptoms have been connected with exposure to crude
MCHM, the chemical that leaked from a Freedom Industries storage
tank Thursday into the Elk River, and then into West Virginia
American Wat e r ’s Charleston treatment plant a mile and a half
The West Virginia Poison Control Center previously said such
symptoms could be related to using tainted water.
Gupta said many of those patients reported using water that was
deemed safe to use by West Virginia American Water. As of
Wednesday afternoon, the “do not use” order has been lifted for
51,600 of the 100,000 customers affected by the chemical spill.
Janet Briscoe, director of epidemiology and threat preparedness,
said this data is based on information provided by patients. No
diagnoses have been made directly correlating patients’ symptoms
to exposure to tap water.
Gupta stopped short of saying whether he thought the water supply
in areas that have been cleared are safe or unsafe for use or
consumption. He said he has “no reason to doubt” We s t Virginia
American Water’s recommendation that water is safe to use in zones
that have been lifted from the “do not use” advisory.
“Having said that, people need to understand they need to make
their own individual decisions out there,” Gupta said. “That’s up
to them. But as far as the data and recommendations we have from
West Virginia American Water, the water is safe to use.
“We ’re not saying it’s safe. West Virginia American Water is
saying it’s safe. We are taking their word for it,” he said.
Gupta said those who have pre-existing allergies, migraines or
asthma may be more sensitive to low amounts of crude MCHM in their
Briscoe said the Kanawha - Charleston Health Department is
reaching out to state and federal agencies to study the long-term
health and environmental impacts of the chemical.