CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A contractor waded waist-deep through one of 16 activated carbon filters at West Virginia American Water’s Charleston treatment plant Tuesday, vacuuming up the carbon with a large hose as local and national media members attentively watched and recorded his every move.
The replacement of a filter has likely happened hundreds of times since the treatment facility along the Elk River opened in December 1973 with rare notice or thought by anyone outside the chilly, industrial filter room. But the work Tuesday — the man crawling around in a concrete pit sucking up 52,000 pounds of the black, granular substance with a vacuum hose — marked the beginning of what the water company hopes will be the end of a water contamination crisis that has marred the public’s trust in the company’s tap water.
“Within days of the Freedom Industries chemical spill, we committed to our customers and have continued to commit to our customers that we would be changing out the carbon caps in the filters just as soon as soon as flows allowed it to,” water company spokeswoman Laura Jordan said. “We let customers know during that time that flow rates during the cold winter months are at their highest. It does not allow us to take any of the filters out of service for changing during those months. This is the first time we were able to start that.”
Jordan said contractors from Pittsburgh-based Calgon Carbon will replace two filters per week, and the entire project is expected to take eight weeks. She said the project will cost West Virginia American Water more than $1.1 million.
The Elk River water treatment facility was overwhelmed on Jan. 9, hours after state officials discovered thousands of gallons of crude MCHM and other chemicals leaking from a faulty storage tank at Freedom Industries into the river…