Hours after two of the schools closed Feb. 5, an official with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave a broad endorsement of the water, saying everyone, pregnant women included, could use it.
Up to that point, pregnant women had received conflicting guidance. Days after thousands of people were cleared to start drinking from faucets, federal officials advised that pregnant women should consider a different source of water.
The nine-county region was cleared to use the water before Freedom Industries revealed that a second chemical, stripped PPH, was in the tank that spilled.
Crude MCHM, the first chemical discovered in the spill, and stripped PPH, are used to clean coal. Little is known about their toxicity, in the short or long term. Neither is considered hazardous by federal standards. Only a handful of studies exist for crude MCHM, and they were on lab animals.
Today, doctors are still advising some patients, such as people with chronic conditions or compromised immune systems, to avoid the water on a case-by-case basis, said Kanawha County Health Officer Dr. Rahul Gupta.
Outside water continues to be brought in by tanker trucks and military vehicles, under orders by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's administration. The public still demands it, Tomblin said.
"It is impossible to predict when this will change, if ever," Tomblin wrote in a Jan. 29 request for more federal help.
Last week, Tomblin changed his mind on in-home water testing, which he and other officials showed little interest in before. The inspections are part of a larger study Tomblin ordered that looks into key details that officials relied upon initially to lift the water-use ban.
Tomblin contracted Dr. Andrew Whelton to lead the study. The researcher, based at the University of South Alabama, came to Charleston to study the spill without outside funding. Then he landed a $50,000 federal grant studying what the chemicals do to pipes in houses. But he had been seeking online donations for return trips to West Virginia to monitor long-term water quality in homes.