Tomblin to Ask for CDC to Visit WV for Clarity on Water Crisis

The State Journal
31 January 2014
By Ann Ali, Senior Political Reporter

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin says he's frustrated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for not offering more help to the Mountain State in light of the Jan. 9 chemical spill in the Elk River, but Tomblin also admitted he hadn't asked.

Tomblin spoke with West Virginia Media Holdings CEO Bray Cary Feb. 2 as part of the statewide weekend affairs show "The State Journal's Decision Makers," and Tomblin said he planned to ask the CDC to visit West Virginia.

"That was very frustrating in dealing with the CDC and trying to get updates on what this chemical means, what the results of drinking or long-term effects, there's all those questions," Tomblin said. "Since this was not a hazardous material, they had done very little research on it."

Tomblin said the CDC may have been struggling, just as the West Virginia Bureau of Public Health had been trying to come up with protocols for testing the chemical, but the Bureau of Public Health has been in contact with the CDC "on a daily basis."

"I just think, had this same chemical occurred someplace else … I'm not here to defend CDC, I've been very frustrated with them because they have not offered any more help than what they have," Tomblin said. "Have I made a formal request to come in? No, but they were in here a week ago.

"I'd be happy to. In order to restore the confidence, we do need an independent or an outside group to come in and look at all the tests that have been taken and the results to be able to restore people's confidence in the water system."

Dr. Letitia Tierney, commissioner of the Bureau of Public Health and the State Health Officer, also spoke with Cary Feb. 2 and said she can't give specific names of experts at the CDC or the National Institute of Health, but she is drinking the tap water.

Tierney, who has been in her position since Nov. 1, 2013, said she wants the public to understand that her family lives in Charleston and she meant the oath she took as a physician to do no harm.

"There are many, many experts, and I know everybody wants names, but you have to understand the partners that we're working with, for example, the experts from the CDC, the experts from the National Institute of Health, these people don't generally want the publicity and it's not that they're not experts in their field, but they let their institution pretty much have the credit," Tierney said. "I'm talking to the experts at the CDC; when these experts agreed to talk to us, they requested that their names not be given."

Tierney said she would ask those experts if she can use their names.

"We don't know what the long-term effects are, and that's part of our mission at public health, is to follow this, so we do this every day," she said. "I think we've been really honest about this — there really are no long-term studies available, so we have to start."

Tierney said the state is continuing to distribute water because the public has expressed its concern.

"I think we're giving out the water because we are hearing people, that they are concerned and that they don't have confidence and so we understand that and we appreciate that," she said. "I've been saying all along, water is fundamental and I understand that and I understand people's fears."