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Sanitarians Working To Inspect Kanawha Schools After Chemical Leak

Reported: Jan. 15, 2014 5:31 PM EST
Updated: Jan. 15, 2014 8:47 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Leslie Rubin) -- Schools in four counties continued to be at a standstill Wednesday,while they waited for clean water to be restored.

The process is taking a lot longer than school officials had initially hoped.

Kanawha, Putnam, Lincoln, and Boone County schools have been closed since Monday in wake of the chemical leak that contaminated 300,000 West Virginia American Water customers.

Initially, in Kanawha County, schools officials were under the impression all schools could begin the flushing process on Monday when the first zone was lifted, but that information proved to be untrue

Now, the process of getting everyone back up and running has turned out to be quite the undertaking.

"First thing, I want to make sure they've flushed all their water lines," Kanawha-Charleston Health Department sanitarian Flem O'Dell said.

The halls of John Adams Middle Schools were not filled with students this week. Instead, sanitarians made their rounds, giving schools a passing or failing grade after they've been cleared by West Virginia American Water to flush their systems.

They were checking equipment, asking questions, and making their own recommendations when it comes to student's safety and health.

"That's my personal opinion, as long as they have bottled water, that's what I would use," O'Dell said, after he gave John Adams a passing grade.

National Guard trucks, filled with thousands of bottles of water, made their rounds to every school in Kanawha County.

"We want to assure them that they're safe here at school," Ruthlawn Elementary Principal Natalie Laliberty said.

Ruthlawn Elementary has been cleared by the health department, but Laliberty said her students will only be drinking the bottled water and cooks will be cooking with it while they have the large supply on hand.

"There still is somewhat of an aroma when you go wash your hands, and so forth, so we're going to try and use as little as possible until it's flushed somewhat more," she said.

"You've got 30,000 kids coming back to school, we'll probably have 30,000 different opinions on whether they want to drink the water, use the water, or wash their hands with it," Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, said.

Of the 70 schools in Kanawha County, not even half had been cleared to flush and checked by a sanitarian on Wednesday afternoon.

Kanawha Schools Superintendent Dr. Ron Duerring said they were initially told on Monday all schools could begin the flushing process, but that information was inaccurate.

"We corrected that, and continue to follow all of the protocols," he said.

State superintendent Dr. Jim Phares said they were not sure if they are going to waive the days missed by students this week.

State code does allow him to, but they need to wait until the end of the winter season to make any decisions.



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