Then Tomblin came calling and provided Whelton $650,000 from the state. With that money, Whelton will sample water in some homes and continue investigating how the chemical permeates or bonds to pipes. Officials have maintained that the chemical doesn't have the right properties to stick around in piping and resurface later.
Whelton also is studying the odor threshold and threat of the chemical. Government experts have long said people can smell the licorice tinge well after the chemical is no longer dangerous in water or vapor. The smell enveloped the valley for days.
Whelton's team also is tasking experts to investigate the CDC's standard for how much of the chemical can be safely ingested in drinking water.
Tomblin's wide-ranging project would need millions more dollars in federal grants. He's calling for that money and, in an effort to re-instill public confidence, for the research team to be able to maintain independence from government officials.
"It is time to let the political officials step aside and let the scientists come in and do the work we need them to do," Tomblin said.
In a region nicknamed "Chemical Valley" because of the industry's huge footprint in greater Charleston, even residents who have lived here their entire lives are concerned.
At a legislative public meeting two weeks ago, several people said they're considering moving. Before the spill, people were already leaving West Virginia at one of the highest rates in the country.
Sue Davis has lived in Kanawha County for 71 years. She vowed that her faith in the water would never return. She said trusting the authorities won't make the potential risks any less threatening.
"I think (people) are deceiving themselves," Davis said.
Each rash, itch, dry patch of skin or dizzy spell lends doubt for people who shower or brush their teeth in the water. Gupta, the health official, said long-term monitoring is needed to track health conditions that could develop much later because little is known about the chemical's long-term effects.
"People are as angry and as frustrated as they were in the first few days," Gupta said. "It's been a challenge. We are on frontiers unknown. And, the population — the 300,000 people or so — continue to suffer."