Planet Earth

published : 2023-09-07

West Virginia Community Endures Weeks without Tap Water Following Chemical Release

A hazardous chemical was released during a malfunction at a West Virginia treatment plant

A photo of Paden City, West Virginia, along the serene banks of the Ohio River, taken with a Nikon D850 camera.

Residents of a northern West Virginia community have been ordered not to use their tap water for over four weeks now. The order was issued after a treatment-plant malfunction caused the release of a hazardous solvent.

Preliminary findings from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revealed the presence of tetrachloroethylene, a harmful chemical widely used by dry cleaners, in the water serving the community of Paden City. The town, situated along the Ohio River, is home to approximately 2,500 residents.

Officials in Paden City had previously closed a local dry cleaner where tetrachloroethylene was used, but it seems the chemical remains in the water system. The malfunction that occurred at the water treatment plant on August 16th was due to a pump valve issue, which has since been fixed. However, testing is still being conducted to ensure the complete removal of the chemical from the system.

A close-up shot of a water treatment plant, showcasing the intricate machinery involved in providing safe tap water, taken with a Canon EOS R camera.

Dr. Matt Christiansen, the state's health officer, emphasized the need to prioritize safety in the restoration of the tap water. He stated that the 'do not use' order will remain in effect until they are completely certain that the chemical has been fully flushed out of the system. Christiansen acknowledged the frustration and concerns of the local residents but assured them that the goal is to restore the water supply safely.

Paden City has been facing water contamination issues for some time. Last year, the EPA added the town's groundwater to a national Superfund cleanup priority list, indicating significant risks to human health and the environment. Tetrachloroethylene was detected at levels higher than the allowed limit, and the EPA considers it a likely carcinogen that can harm various parts of the human body.

Although tetrachloroethylene had already been present in Paden City's water system since around 2010, the violation notice was issued in December 2018 when the levels exceeded the federally allowed limit. The city's new water treatment plant, which debuted in May 2020, aimed to address these issues.

An aerial view of Paden City, capturing the community nestled amidst the picturesque landscapes, taken with a Sony A7 III camera.

Governor Jim Justice highlighted the involvement of the EPA as the lead agency for the Superfund site in Paden City. He acknowledged that federal agencies sometimes operate at a slower pace than desired but assured the public that efforts are underway to resolve the situation.

The ongoing tap water crisis in Paden City serves as a reminder of the critical importance of water safety and the need for systematic monitoring to prevent such incidents from occurring in the future.