CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The smell lingers — the slightly sweet, slightly bitter odor of a chemical that contaminated the water supply of West Virginia's capital more than a week ago. It creeps out of faucets and shower heads. It wafts from the Elk River, the site of the spill. Sometimes it hangs in the cold nighttime air.
For several days, a majority of Charleston-area residents have been told their water is safe to drink, that the concentration of a chemical used to wash coal is so low that it won't be harmful. Restaurants have reopened — using tap water to wash dishes and produce, clean out their soda fountains and make ice.
But as long as people can still smell it, they're wary — and given the lack of knowledge about the chemical known as MCHM, some experts say their caution is justified.
"I would certainly be waiting until I couldn't smell it anymore, certainly to be drinking it," said Richard Denison, a scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund who has followed the spill closely. "I don't blame people at all for raising questions and wondering whether they can trust what's being told to them."
The Jan. 9 spill from a Freedom Industries facility on the banks of the Elk River, less than 2 miles upstream from Charleston's water treatment plant, led to a ban on water use that affected 300,000 people.
Four days later, officials started to lift the ban in one area after another, saying tap water was safe for drinking because the concentration of the chemical dipped below one part per million, even though the smell was still strong at that level. By Friday afternoon, nearly all of the 300,000 people impacted had been told the water was safe.
Late Wednesday, however, health officials issued different guidance for pregnant women, urging them not to drink tap water until the chemical is entirely undetectable. The Centers for Disease Control said it made that recommendation out of an abundance of caution because existing studies don't provide a complete picture of how the chemical affects humans.
For Sarah Bergstrom, a 29-year-old nurse who is four months pregnant with her second child, the news was devastating. She hasn't drunk the water since the spill, but she has taken showers.
"I cried myself to sleep (Wednesday) night. I was both angry and scared," she said. "This baby that we've wanted for so long, I'm now questioning — have I done something that could have harmed her?"
Bergstrom said she's fortunate that she can afford bottled water, which she intends to use for the foreseeable future.
"My biggest fear is for those mothers, those pregnant women out there who aren't able to go get enough bottled water for their family, who don't have the resources and don't have the knowledge base to know that this is not safe," she said.
Karen Bowling, West Virginia's secretary of Health and Human Resources, said pregnant women who drank the water before being told to avoid it should contact their doctors. For the rest of the population, Bowling said she is confident the tap water is not harmful.
"It's understandable that people are concerned. I don't want to minimize anybody's feelings about an issue as sensitive as this," said Bowling, who said she drank the tap water after it was declared safe. "It's hard to instill confidence when there's little known about the chemical, but at the same time we have to trust in the science of what's happening."
According to the health department, 411 patients have been treated at hospitals for symptoms that patients said came from exposure to the chemical, and 20 people have been admitted. Also, more than 1,600 people have called poison control to complain of symptoms. Bowling said the department is trying to sort out how many of those patients were actually sickened by the chemical, and not by other diseases.
Given the uncertainty, many people in this coal-dependent swath of central West Virginia known as Chemical Valley say avoiding the water is a prudent decision.
Jeff Duff, a 42-year-old contractor from South Charleston, is drinking bottled water and taking showers at his brother's house about 25 miles to the west, where the tap water comes from a different source.
"I'm not touching it," Duff said. "I just don't trust it. I don't think they know enough about it to give us a clear answer — not enough for my safety and my kids' safety."
Duff said his self-imposed ban also applies to eating at restaurants in the affected area because he's leery about residue left by the chemical on washed dishes.
The CDC relied on two studies of the chemical's effect on animals to establish the safe standard of one part per million, but data from them is not publicly available.
"This is a dynamic and moving event. There are many things happening. And we are trying to do our best," Dr. Vikas Kapil of the CDC's Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry told reporters in a conference call Thursday. "There are uncertainties. There is little known about this material."
MCHM is one of tens of thousands of chemicals exempt from testing under the federal Toxic Substances Control Act because they were already in use when the law was approved in 1976. A fact sheet of available data on the chemical says there is no specific information about its toxic effects on humans. Its chances of causing cancer and its effects on reproductive health are unknown, according to the document and the CDC.
At a busy Charleston intersection a few blocks from West Virginia American Water's treatment plant, Barry Sean Rogers was recently staging a one-man protest with a sign that read: "Our water is unsafe. We are being lied to."
Rogers, 51, isn't using tap water at his downtown apartment until he gets some answers. He's drinking and bathing in bottled water, and when he leaves his apartment, he turns the taps on to flush out the pipes.
"If I turn it on, it drives me out of the apartment. It still smells. It's nasty. I get headaches, nausea," Rogers said.
Some residents in South St. Louis County have been complaining that their tap water has a bad smell or taste.
American Water says the problem is a seasonal one. They attribute it to the cold top layer of a lake or river sinking to the bottom while the warmer water rises--the action causes a smell or bitter taste. Company officials say the problem should be resolved this week.
In the mean time, the water is safe to drink and use.
Our rainy weather has postponed the start of repairs to fix a noxious smell at the Bridgeton landfill.
Landfill owners, Republic Services had warned residents that the smell will get worse during the early phase of moving things around to ultimately snuff the stench.
Residents who live near by have been offered expenses to stay in a hotel. All work should be completed by June 14th.
People who live within a mile of the smelly Bridgeton Landfill are being offered alternative housing until crews remove concrete pipe sections to get rid of the stench.
The Post Dispatch reports the program is voluntary and will be offered to residents living in Spanish Village, Terrisan Reste mobile home community and certain areas of the Carrollton Village Condominiums.
The landfill is offering to pay hotel lodging fees and taxes at an extended say hotel selected by Bridgeton Landfill officials.
The project is expected to last until June 14.
BRIDGETON, Mo. (AP) - The operators of a landfill in St. Louis County have completed a well improvement project seeking to remove odor-causing gas that has raised concerns for those who live near the facility.
Bridgeton Landfill LLC said Wednesday that it has installed 40 new wells about a week ahead of schedule. Gas will be removed through the wells, then transported to an on-site processing facility.
The landfill sits near Lambert Airport. Residents who work and live near it have complained for months about the smell and raised health concerns.
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster late last month filed a lawsuit against the landfill operators, alleging violations of state environmental laws on the 52-acre site.
The lawsuit filed Wednesday stems from an underground fire at the Bridgeton Sanitary Landfill near Lambert Airport. The fire is causing a foul-smelling odor that is drawing complaints from nearby homes, businesses, hospitals and senior care centers.
The suit against the landfill owner, Republic Services Inc., asks that Republic bear the cost of cleanup, remediation and monitoring.
Messages seeking comment from the landfill and Republic were not returned. In a statement on its website, Bridgeton Landfill says it is working to fix the problem. Forty wells will be added by April 15 to remove odor-causing gas, then a cap will be installed over the odor-causing area of the landfill.
Homeowners who live near a Bridgeton landfill should learn more about what Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster has planned concerning their complaints. Koster will speak with reporters later this morning about the stench that has lingered for months.
The Department of Natural Resources recently ran test of the area. State officials determined the area tested for high levels of hydrogen sulfide in the air. Hydrogen sulfide often causes headaches and irritation to eyes, nose and throat.
The DNR then sent the findings to Koster’s office.Republic Services owns the Bridgeton Landfill. The company sent a statement that said there is no proof the hydrogen sulfide in the air is from their landfill.