Number of People Showing Symptoms During Water Crisis Much Higher Than Previously Thought

The State Journal
22 April 2014
By Christina Fan, Reporter

CHARLESTON, WV - Approximately 100,000 people experienced symptoms after the Freedom Industries’ spill into the Elk River, according to Dr. Rahul Gupta, the executive director of the Kanawha Charleston Health Department. The updated numbers were released during a teleconference Tuesday morning hosted by Gupta and Dr. Andrew Whelton.

“What this data implies is that the public health impact associated with the event was woefully and grossly underestimated,” said Dr. Whelton.

Earlier projections indicated 544 people were evaluated at local hospitals as of Jan. 24, according to Allison Adler, a spokesperson for the West Virginia Dept. of Health and Human Resources. Twenty-six patients were put under further examination, then treated and released.

Gupta explained the data was compiled from two sources. Outpatient data obtained by the Kanawha Charleston Health Department estimated 92,568 people experienced symptoms. In-home testing conducted by Dr. Whelton in the days following the spill drew a preliminary estimate of 108,819.

The most common symptoms people reported were skin irritation, nausea, and eye irritation. Dr. Whelton claims there were two spikes in patient reporting. The first spike was on Jan. 9, the day of the chemical spill. The second spike was on Jan. 13, when parts of the population were notified to flush their systems. Most people reported feeling symptoms while at home, at work, or at a food establishment.

The findings were released hours before an online conference hosted by the National Association of County & City Health Officials between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Tuesday afternoon.