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Town Hall Panelists Weigh In On Water Crisis Issues

Reported: Jan. 29, 2014 2:39 PM EST
Updated: Jan. 30, 2014 2:10 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Jeff Morris) -- A heavy-hitter panel of experts quickly weighed in on discussion about the water crisis at a Town Hall forum at the Clay Center, with one official acknowledging there are still many unknowns about the effects of the chemical spill on public health.

"We are the first human beings this chemical has ever been experimented on," Dr. Rahul Gupta, executive director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, said. "We are the laboratory population in a way."

Gupta told audience members on Wednesday at the "Town Hall: West Virginia Water Crisis: What’s Next?" that the main guidance people have had to follow since the chemical spill of MCHM was the 1 parts per million level that was being followed by West Virginia American Water based on the advice of the Centers for Disease Control.

The health department official said there still are many people who have reported health issues such as rashes and diarrhea, but Gupta said there is no way yet to prove a direct link. He said he would like to see a health surveillance program started to document people's symptoms and try to determine if they are related to the contact and exposure to the chemical.

Several people in the audience wanted to know why there was not any type of enforcement or regulations that would have prevented the chemical spill at Freedom Industries.

Environmental activist Erin Brockovich said regulation without enforcement is "pointless."

During the forum, the issue of trust was raised several times. Some people said they were angry at West Virginia American Water and Freedom Industries for not sending representatives to the forum.

Brockovich, who said she is a mother and a grandmother, said she knows where she stands on the issue of trust.

"I don't need anyone to tell me to trust them, when I can see and smell something is wrong," Brockovich said.

Randy Huffman, cabinet secretary for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, said he understands it is going to take some time and effort when it comes to trust.

"We respect it is going to take some time," Huffman said. "We can't talk our way into it. We have to demonstrate it with our actions."

The full video of the two-hour forum can be viewed here.




CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Jeff Morris, Bethany Simmons) -- It’s just a few hours until a major event that tackles a topic that has been on the minds of nearly everyone in our region – the water crisis.

Eyewitness News’ "Town Hall: West Virginia Water Crisis: What’s Next?" will begin at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Clay Center. If you have registered to attend, make sure to bring your email confirmation ticket with you.

Registration is now closed due to limited seating, but you can watch from the comfort of your own home.

Watch the event live from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on WCHS TV, and the entire forum will be streamed live on our website at wchstv.com from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Click on the Town Hall tab on the website.

Plus, join us on Facebook for a live chat – just click the Town Hall tab to join in on the conversation.

The Town Hall will have a live audience with an expert panel of guests. Our panelists include:

* Environmental activist, Erin Brockovich

* Cabinet Secretary for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, Randy Huffman

* Executive Director at Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, Rahul Gupta

* Lead Investigator U.S. Chemical Safety Board, Johnny Banks

* Environmental Investigator Bob Bowcock

* Chief of Environmental Security Emergency Response, Mike Dorsey



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