|UPDATE - More than a month after the Freedom Industries chemical spill, none of the seven officials testifying at a congressional hearing in Charleston Monday could say whether the area's water supply is safe, according to the Charleston Daily Mail, confirming statements made by Sen. Jay Rockefeller earlier.|
Media outlets report, "It's the four-letter word it seems nobody wants to utter out loud, or with any conviction: S-A-F-E.
ORIGINAL STORY -
Questions about water safety still lurk.
Water woes for 300,000 customers continues, following a toxic spill of chemicals in the Elk River and distributed to customers.
At Clay County's H. E. White Elementary School remains under a 'do not use' order, reportedly because the Queen Shoals PSD has not flushed their system.
Last week, several other schools experienced problems after the flushing and state officials gave the go ahead to use the water, the schools complaining of the well-known licorice odor linked to the spill with adults and students claiming health-related problems.
Meanwhile, WV Water customers are upset over being billed for the toxic water, with a $10 credit for flushing.
Issues have been raised over state politicians links to extractive industries, and the denial of public interest groups in dealing with the disaster, in addition to the state's long history of not pursuing criminal charges against corporate interests.
Sen Jay Rockefeller, in a press release, says he doesn't think the water is safe for drinking.
Rockefeller took issue with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control saying the water was "appropriate" for use, rather than "safe," or Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's statements indicating a judgment call on the consumers part.
"What does that mean? It means nothing. It means absolutely nothing," he said. "It means, 'It's up to you,' he said.
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Elizabeth Noreika, Heath Harrison) - U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said the water crisis affecting West Virginia is just another example of industry putting profit over people.
Rockefeller sat down with Eyewitness News for an interview Thursday at his Washington office.
Rockefeller said he doesn't think the water in the counties affected is safe to drink.
"No, I don't," he said. "And even if some expert group told me it was safe, I don't think I'd believe it."
Rockefeller said he may sound cynical, but he adds, that comes after 50 years of public service and seeing the way corporations operate.
"They can say it's not hazardous or this or that, but it doesn't mean anything," he said.
Rockefeller said water is vital to West Virginians.
"If people can't drink the water, they can't live," he said. "Everything else in the economic, social and personal life of West Virginia just disappears if you can't drink water."
The uncertainty surrounding the safety of the water for 300,000 West Virginians is what Rockefeller describes as a "hellish" way to live and said already people are planning to move out of the area.
"I know there are people in West Virginia who have told my office or me that they're thinking of leaving," he said. "They're mostly people with very young babies. They look to a future of this kind of lack of regulatory control and discipline, and they say 'Where I live is less important than my children grow up healthy.' "
Rockefeller said the lack of oversight of sites like Freedom industries is a result of corporate influence on the political process.
"It just gets into the degree of control that corporations have over people," he said. "They dominate in West Virginia's life. Governors get elected - and I was a governor once - and they appoint people to regulatory jobs who helped them in campaigns. What does that tell you?"
He said he found the fact that tanks at Freedom had not been inspected since 1991 to be "absolutely astounding."
"It may not be a criminal act, but it ought to be," he said. "In this case, on the part of the state or federal government, and certainly on the part of the company."
He said people deserve answers from agencies working on the issue, whose budgets have been cut.
"They ought be able to take a critical mass and break it down into an answer: Yes, drink; No, don't,' " Rockefeller said. "It shouldn't be that hard."
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board is still actively investigating the site, after arriving in West Virginia at Rockefeller's request. Board Chairman and Chief Executive Rafael Moure-Eraso gave an update in an interview on Thursday.
"We are interviewing all the workers to track down how and when this happened, and government officials and people at the water company, to find out how they do their work and how it relates to the presence of chemicals in the neighborhood," he said.
Moure-Eraso is also quick to point out that there should be absolutely no traces of MCHM in potable water.
"There should be no MCHM in drinking water….period," he said. "There is no safe level."
Rockefeller is currently pressing for legislation that could prevent future incidents like the one in the Elk River from ever happening again, but, for now, he warns to be cautious when trusting what you are being told about the water you drink.
Rockefeller took issue with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control saying the water was "appropriate" for use, rather than "safe."
"What does that mean? It means nothing. It means absolutely nothing," he said. "It means, 'It's up to you.' If I were told it was 'appropriate,' I just wouldn't drink.
See TOXIC SPILL REPORT TAPE RELEASED: Freedom Industries Downplays Crisis, Hours After Spill
CITIZEN GROUPS EXCLUDED FROM TOMBLIN'S PUSH OVER NEW ENVIRONMENTAL REGULATIONS - "Stakeholders" Are Industry Reps
UPDATE: WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE AND NOT A DROP TO DRINK - Chemical Spill Affecting 300,000, Secret Disasters