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WVAW President Drinks Tap Water; Addresses Questions From Reporters

Reported: Jan. 20, 2014 6:16 PM EST
Updated: Jan. 20, 2014 7:29 PM EST

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West Virginia American Water President Jeff McIntyre didn't hesitate to drink tap water supplied to him from the WCHS studios on Piedmont Road on Charleston's East End.

"I'll drink it if it smells," he said, as he was handed the water.

"You will drink if if it smells?" Eyewitness News reporter Leslie Rubin asked.

"Absolutely, I drank water from home that still had an odor in it," he said.

"Why did that not bother you to drink the water that still smelled?" Rubin asked.

"Because I know it's below the protective health limit," McIntyre said. "You can still detect the smell well below that limit, and I know that we're below that limit so I have no concern drinking the water."

Part 1 of Interview:

Rubin: "Into our newsroom, we have taken, just as you have, thousands of calls of people still complaining of these symptoms. Some are calling your company and you personally outright liars (by) saying that this water is still safe. What do you have to say to them?"

McIntyre: "All the sampling that we've done in the system show that it is below that 1 part per million guidance from the CDC that it's safe. Can people still smell it? Yes. We're working through the system now at a much higher detection limit of parts per billion, so that we can work through the system, again systematically, from the inside out, flushing where we get areas that we smell the odor and trying to work through the system to get to the point where all the samples that we take, we can say, are non detectable limits of this product."

Rubin: "Can you also talk about the reports that the water buffaloes were filled up in Charleston. Was that water safe? And if it was, then why fill them up in Montgomery?"

McIntyre: "Well, once we got the clear that the plant was at non detect levels, someone had decided that they should fill them at the water plant because it would be quicker for the distribution centers. Not a good decision. It's something that we stopped, we took them all away, because people want to go to those tankers and know that it's safe water. You don't want the perception, they don't like there's any reality that the water was unsafe in those tankers at any time, but to make sure that our customers are comfortable, we now fill those fill those outside of our system."

Rubin: "Has there been any talk about moving the intake facility to someone where it would not be as susceptible to something like this?"

McIntyre: "I've heard discussions about that, but really, I've said many times that we're singularly focused on getting our customer's confidence back initially with this event. We'll examine all needs and requirements and debrief on this event. But we're not having any discussions right now about moving the intake, or what we need to do going forward if anything."

Part 2 of Interview:

Rubin: "Do you consider your company a victim of Freedom Industries as well?"

McIntyre: "Like our customers, I consider this company has been victimized by this spill, yes I do."

Rubin: "Do you all believe that there's any chance the chemical was in the water before Thursday?"

McIntyre: "No, I think everyone will admit that the levels that we're testing this at, the smell that it can still have. We would know if it had been in the water before."

Rubin: "How soon do you think it will be before your company asks the PSC for a rate increase for these customers?"

McIntyre: "I can tell you pretty certainly, we can't ask based on our last rate case before 2015. We're not even looking at that right now, that's not our focus, our focus is on the customers and giving them the quality of water that we've always given them."

Rubin: "Did a leak from your line flood or undermine that plant area?"

McIntyre: "Not to my knowledge, in the fact, the leak we were repairing happened after the event. We they were told, as I understand, to take out their fire service. A leak developed that we then went up, and fixing leaks is something that we do everyday. All customers deserve our service for fixing leaks. And we had 20 homes on that road as I understand, so we replaced 600 feet of main along that road, but that occurred after the event."

Rubin: "Is Freedom's theory plausible at all for what had happened? I'm sure you've read that bankruptcy filing."

McIntyre: "I don't want to comment on their theory but I'll just leave it at that. I don't want to comment on their theory."

Rubin: "Across the board, people, I mean, you can't dispute the fact that they've lost trust with a lot of people including West Virginia American Water and some people don't have another option to get water. What do you say to those people who feel that they have lost trust in their only source of water in their homes?"

McIntyre: "I think trust takes time to build back up, we're committed to regaining the trust of our customers. We provide a quality product at a very good price, but trust is one of those things that takes time to recover and we're not going to stop until we recover that trust."

Part 3 of Interview:

Rubin: "Of course, everyone knows about the CDC telling pregnant women not to drink this water and people want to know why then is it safe for the elderly or children, or anyone for that matter.?"

McIntyre: "I'm not a health based expert, so you'd have to ask the CDC, but it's not uncommon for them to add pregnant women as a more sensitive class of customers and provide an advisory for them."

Rubin: "There was a report today in the Charleston Gazette that federal officials did recommend that there was flushing until there was no longer the smell of that licorice odor. What not follow those federal recommendations?"

McIntyre: "We weren't aware of those. West Virginia American Water were not aware of those before it was read in the paper. And really it's not the best recommendation. This is an aesthetic issue below one part per million, it's not a health based issue, but people can smell it. It's an aesthetic issue. It's not pleasant for a lot of people but think about the consequences that we've seen when we ask people to flush with the standard protocol method. We had one nursing home that opened four fire hydrants and drained a tank. We had one customer who turned on their water and left and went out of state, so if people behave like that, we won't have any water in the system for sanitation or for fire fighting."

Rubin: "How long will there be now, will you be testing for it?"

McIntyre: "The site has been remediated. So the potential to release into the river is essentially gone as I understand from the DEP reports. But we continue to test for it and we'll test for it until we're confident that we won't be exposed to it again."

View the full interview in our ”Raw News” section

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