CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia American Water shut down its water intake on the Elk River for nearly two hours Thursday, after a white foam was seen floating along the banks of the river.
The water company has faced criticism over its decision not to shut down its water intake during the Jan. 9 chemical leak from Freedom Industries — an incident that contaminated the drinking water of about 300,000 West Virginians in nine counties. As a result, Thursday’s incident received additional scrutiny from government agencies and the local news media.
State inspectors spent much of Thursday investigating the white foam. Initial tests showed no changes to water quality, according to the water company, and testing by the West Virginia National Guard showed no man-made substances in the foam, said Lawrence Messina, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety.
The foam being investigated Thursday was in the Elk above West Virginia American Water’s regional intake, but Department of Environmental Protection officials said they believe the material appeared to be coming from farther upstream than the Freedom Industries tank farm where January’s leak occurred.
The water company’s intake was shut down from 9 a.m. until 10:45 a.m., company spokeswoman Laura Jordan said. The DEP notified her company of the situation at about 8:40 a.m., she said.
The intake was shut down “until more information could be gathered” about the incident, according to a West Virginia American news release.
“The plant continued to pump treated water out of its clearwell, as system conditions allowed for the plant to maintain adequate system storage during this time,” the company said. “The plant resumed normal operations after water quality staff consulted with the [state Bureau of Public Health], as well as confirmed that no foam or film was present on the river near the plant intake.”
The clearwell is a 4.5-million-gallon storage area that is the first storage for water that has been treated. Jordan said the company was able to shut down its intake on Thursday — but not after the chemical leak — because the clearwell and other storage areas had much more water in them Thursday.
“The conditions in the system today were dramatically different than on Jan. 9,” Jordan said…