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New C8 advisory sparks water crisis in Wood County

Parkersburg News and Sentinel photo by Jeffrey Saulton Two members of the West Virginia Army National Guard load water in a water buffalo at the Parkersburg Water Plant for cleaning of tankers to be used to truck water to Vienna.
Parkersburg News and Sentinel photo by Jeffrey Saulton
Two members of the West Virginia Army National Guard load water in a water buffalo at the Parkersburg Water Plant for cleaning of tankers to be used to truck water to Vienna.

VIENNA, W.Va. — Schools are closed today in Vienna where residents stocked up on bottled water and city and county officials swiftly responded to the new C8 health advisory level released Thursday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department issued a do-not-drink-the-water advisory for residents of Vienna and Boaz.

On Thursday afternoon, the EPA set a lifetime health advisory of 0.07 parts per billion for perflurooctanoic acid, also known as PFOA or C8, and the related chemical perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, or PFOS, lower than the 0.4 ppb established in 2009 after a lawsuit over C8 contamination from the DuPont Washington Works.

The compound, once used to make Teflon at the Washington Works, has been linked to six diseases in humans, according to the science panel that studied health data from 70,000 residents in the Mid-Ohio Valley.

The latest tests of the water in Vienna showed C8 concentrations of greater than 0.1 ppb in most of the city’s 10 wells.

The EPA said its health advisories are based on the best available peer-reviewed studies of the effects of PFOA and PFOS on laboratory rats and mice and were also informed by epidemiological studies of human populations that have been exposed.

“These studies indicate that exposure to PFOA and PFOS over certain levels may result in adverse health effects, including developmental effects to fetuses during pregnancy or to breastfed infants (e.g., low birth weight, accelerated puberty, skeletal variations), cancer (e.g., testicular, kidney), liver effects (e.g., tissue damage), immune effects (e.g., antibody production and immunity), thyroid effects and other effects (e.g., cholesterol changes),” the agency fact sheet said.

“EPA’s health advisory levels were calculated to offer a margin of protection against adverse health effects to the most sensitive populations: fetuses during pregnancy and breastfed infants. The health advisory levels are calculated based on the drinking water intake of lactating women, who drink more water than other people and can pass these chemicals along to nursing infants through breastmilk,” the fact sheet said.

Vienna Mayor Randy Rapp said he learned of the new EPA advisory at about 2 p.m. Thursday and immediately began working with Rick Woodyard, Wood County 911 director, to organize alternative water plans.

Potable water will be made available to residents at Spencer’s Landing, the former Johns Manville property along River Road, from tankers and water buffaloes provided through the West Virginia Army National Guard, Rapp said. Containers will not be provided, he said.

Woodyard said the tanks will be coming from Charleston and Elkins.

A schedule will be determined and announced, possibly today, about when water will be available at Spencer’s Landing, Rapp said. Other sites will be utilized if Spencer’s Landing becomes congested, he said.

Neale, Vienna, Greenmont and Jackson schools in Vienna will be closed today “out of an abundance of caution,” Assistant Superintendent Mike Fling said.

“Schools will reopen on Monday with an alternative source of water for drinking and food preparation,” he said.

Sanitarians from the health department will inspect restaurants to ensure food is prepared with alternate water sources, but bathroom use and handwashing are OK with the existing water supply, the health department said.

The health department established a toll-free number for residents to obtain answers to questions, 888-550-6797.

Bottled water sales spiked on Thursday as news of the advisory began reaching residents.

“My fiancee called me at work and told me I had to leave and go buy as much bottled water as I could as fast as I could,” said Jake Springman.

Angela Workman stocked up on water from Lowe’s.

“My daughter called me at home and told me about the water situation so I ran out of the house so I could buy water so my pets would have something to drink tonight,” she said.

Sales spiked shortly after the announcement was made, according to Vienna Lowe’s Manager David Flynn.

“In the last two hours, there has been a lot of demand for bottled water,” Flynn said around 4 p.m. Thursday.

Carol Henscomb, hard lines manager at the Kmart in Vienna, said several pallets of bottled water were available at the store.

“We got a truck in today with bottled water,” she said. “It’s in every truck we get, and we get two trucks a week. If we need more, we can make an emergency order and the truck will be here the next day.”

The announcement shouldn’t have been a surprise, said Harry Deitzler, a plaintiffs’ attorney in the original 2009 lawsuit that led to the creation of the science panel, medical monitoring and filtration systems for six water systems in the region. Deitzler and co-counsel Robert Bilot have encouraged Vienna and Parkersburg to seek filtration systems, too, from DuPont.

“We brought this up over a year ago in Vienna council and again in February. Since then, Mayor Randy Rapp, Public Works Director Craig Metz and council have been working on plans to combine the wells and filter the water,” Deitzler said. “I appreciate their efforts to protect the health and safety of all of our Vienna residents.”

State, county and municipal officials took little or no action against DuPont over C8 contamination and hid behind the 0.4 ppb level from the EPA, said Dr. Paul Brooks, whose company, Brookmar, organized and conducted the massive collection of health data from 70,000 people in the Mid-Ohio Valley used by the science panel established by the lawsuit in 2009.

C8 was linked to six human diseases, the panel said. They can no longer say concentrations greater than 0.1 ppb are safe when the EPA health advisory level is now 0.07 ppb, Brooks said.

Government officials need to seek a solution from DuPont, which appears to be the installation of carbon filters that have been effective in other water systems, and if that means lawsuits, then so be it, Brooks said.

“DuPont put it in the water and … DuPont ought to clean it,” Brooks said.

Chemours, the company spun off by DuPont last year, released a statement Thursday.

“We’re aware that the U.S. EPA has established a health advisory for PFOA in drinking water, and we are reviewing with interest the related data published by the agency on its website. The new health advisory has been expected, following completion of the agency’s risk assessment for PFOA in 2014. We believe the Agency set the health advisory at 70 parts per trillion (0.07 ppb) with the goal of being extremely protective,” the statement said. “Chemours has been proactive in preparing to quickly implement measures including drinking water treatment and/or monitoring where appropriate to meet this newly announced health advisory. Granular Activated Carbon water treatment systems have been in place in six water districts, and multiple private wells near our Washington Works site and they continue to successfully lower PFOA in drinking water to below regulatory levels.”

West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s office released a statement from Dr. Rahul Gupta, state health officer and commissioner for the Bureau for Public Health.

“The Bureau for Public Health has reviewed the information regarding PFOA and PFOS that the U.S. EPA released today in a lifetime drinking water health advisory and continues to closely monitor the situation. BPH is working with the town of Vienna to implement appropriate precautions, which will include a Do Not Drink advisory until additional testing and evaluation take place. The Department of Health and Human Resources and the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety will assist those affected by the EPA’s advisory, and the state will assist in securing installation of new filters,” the statement said.

Rapp said he has been in contact with Chemours and the company started studying “a plan for the installation of carbon filters.” Rapp said he is confident the company will be cooperative.

Rapp said a conservative estimate is the water distribution situation in Vienna will persist for six to eight weeks and that’s provided filters are immediately installed, he said.

The release from Gupta said the new EPA advisory also affects Parkersburg and the City of Martinsburg.

Parkersburg Utility Board Manager Eric Bennett said the utility’s last tests for C8 showed that its treated water was below the new threshold.

“As long as our finished water meets that limit, we’re good,” he said.

The results, from September, showed a concentration of 0.031 ppb in treated PUB water. Only one of the city’s five wells had a level exceeding 0.07 ppb, and that one is not currently in service, Bennett said, after a lightning strike rendered its flow meter inoperable.

The next round of testing was planned to take place in June, but Bennett said the utility is moving that up, in part due to the guidance in the new EPA fact sheet regarding PFOS. That substance has not been tested for in recent years, he said. The last time it was, the levels were well below the newly established health advisory threshhold, Bennett said.

For now, Bennett said the PUB is providing water for the water buffaloes Vienna is utilizing. They will also look at providing additional water for the neighboring city; however, due to a difference in water pressure, there would need to be some sort of pumping mechanism installed to connect the systems.

(Staff writers Evan Bevins and Brett Kline contributed to this story.)

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