W.Va. official: Patients told not to drink water

Associated Press
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A county health official in West Virginia said doctors are advising some patients not to drink tap water weeks after it was deemed safe from a chemical contamination, though a federal health official on Wednesday said it could be used for any purpose.

The Jan. 9 spill at Freedom Industries in Charleston spurred a water-use ban for 300,000 people. After officials cleared thousands of people to use water again, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials advised pregnant women to consider a different water source.

Dr. Rahul Gupta of Kanawha and Putnam counties said Wednesday that some pediatricians now are advising that children under 3 also shouldn't drink the water. Other physicians are similarly advising patients on dialysis or with kidney or liver failure, chronic conditions or low immune systems.

The CDC's Dr. Tanja Popovic said later Wednesday that the water was "appropriate for use" and that the advisory for pregnant women was meant to "empower" them to make their own health choices.

Meanwhile, two schools in the state closed early Wednesday because of the licorice smell in the water that resembled what was detected during the spill.

State schools Superintendent James Phares said some students complained of lightheadedness, itchy eyes and noses. A teacher who fainted and a student were taken to a hospital.

The schools were testing for the chemical and flushing the lines. No decision will be made about Thursday's classes until results return. The schools also have hand sanitizer and bottled water available.

To try to provide some clarity in the mixed messages people are receiving, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is evaluating options to test tap water in people's homes. After the spill, officials have based testing at the West Virginia American Water treatment plant and various other spots across the affected region.

House Speaker Tim Miley and Minority Leader Tim Armstead urged Tomblin to start representative sampling in homes across the affected nine-county area. The two lawmakers suggested making West Virginia American Water pay for the tests, but they want the state to conduct the testing.

At a news conference, Tomblin said he had no plans to test all 300,000 West Virginians affected by the spill, but that he would be "happy to consider" taking representative samples.