The Ottumwa Courier

AP National

February 17, 2014

One month after spill, W. Virginians wary of water

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — More than a month after chemicals seeped into West Virginia's biggest water supply, Jeanette Maddox would rather bundle up, drive to a shopping center parking lot and fill jugs of water from the spigot of a tanker truck than trust the tap in her kitchen.

This is Maddox's new routine three times a week, what she considers a necessary burden to feel safe drinking water, cooking with it and making coffee.

For weeks, government officials have said the running water in nine counties is suitable for all daily needs. But Maddox, like many of the 300,000 residents whose water was contaminated Jan. 9, is not convinced.

She notes that officials waited four to 10 days, depending on the neighborhood, before allowing people to use their water. In the days right after Freedom Industries leaked chemicals into the Elk River in Charleston, officials said the water should be used only for flushing toilets and fighting fires.

Residents have struggled to track, let alone trust, mixed messages and muddied information from government officials and Freedom Industries, the company involved. Despite public pressure, officials have been reluctant to call the water "safe" and have started arguing that the term is subjective. Instead, they use phrases such as "appropriate to use."

"Well, they won't use the word 'safe,'" said Maddox, who lives with her two daughters and two grandsons in Charleston. "But, the water is 'OK.' We don't know that."

Maddox is not alone, as visible signs of doubt about the water are everywhere.

In Charleston, eateries display signs that say, "We're cooking with bottled water." The chemical licorice smell still wafts out of some showers, toilets and taps in homes and businesses. The smell resurfaced in five schools Feb. 5 and 6, and the district temporarily shut them down. In one case, a teacher fainted and went to the hospital.

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