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Feds advised flushing until chemical odor gone

By Ken Ward Jr.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Concerned about lingering odors, federal officials recommended a more lengthy “flush” of home plumbing systems than state leaders and West Virginia American Water advised 300,000 residents to use to clean the chemical “Crude MCHM” from those systems, according to newly disclosed government communications.

The U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry suggested that residents be told to run water from their homes until they no longer smelled the licorice-like odor of the chemical, according to the communications, obtained under the West Virginia Freedom of Information Act.

The ATSDR said that there was no established “odor threshold” below which residents would not detect the chemical, released into the region’s Elk River water supply on Jan. 9 by a spill at the Freedom Industries’ tank farm 1.5 miles upriver from the water company’s intake.

In a Jan. 10 email message to the state Department of Health and Human Resources, the ATDSR said it did not “anticipate any adverse health effects” from the levels being detected in the water.

“That said, because of the odor and not knowing an odor threshold we would also recommend that the system or residents be told to flush their systems until it was no longer observed,” wrote Larry F. Cseh, emergency response coordinator for ATSDR’s U.S. Public Health Service.

Late Sunday afternoon, state officials said that their goal was to ensure that residents were not drinking water until it was below a 1-part-per-million public health “screening level” that the federal Centers for Disease Control designed for the emergency situation.

“The odor is a different issue,” said Lawrence Messina, spokesman for the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety…

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