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14 Schools Reported Odor Problems With Water On Thursday

Reported: Feb. 6, 2014 9:20 AM EST
Updated: Feb. 6, 2014 8:40 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Leslie Rubin) -- State and county school officials said 14 Kanawha County schools reported odor complaints on Thursday, with three of those schools dismissing early. The rest of the schools didn't detect a black licorice odor until after the kids had went home for the day, according to state school Superintendent Dr. Jim Phares.

Members of the Charleston Health Department, governor's office, National Guard, Kanawha County schools, and the West Virginia Department of Education met Thursday to discuss the ongoing water issues in the schools.

In each of the odor complaint cases, Dr. Phares said the odor was not detectable once response teams showed up to collect water samples.

"We're really taking a close look at how can we get to the scene quicker, on site and respond in order to find out what we're dealing with. That's the one thing. We do know hat the water is safe," Dr. Phares said on Thursday.

Several school employees reported on Thursday that the odor of black licorice in the water made their eyes burn and made them feel nauseous.

Five schools have dismissed early in the last two days because of odor complaints in the water. Two remained closed on Thursday, as frustrations mount for parents wondering if this is ever going to end.

"They're saying it's bad today, why wasn't it bad yesterday? I mean, somebody's got to do something," Linda Turner said as she was picking up her grandchildren from J.E. Robbins Elementary on Thursday morning. Her words echoed the feelings of many who had to unexpectedly pick up their kids from school. She said she did not know whether to feel relieved the kids are being sent home, or upset about it.

"If the water's bad, you don't want them exposed to it. Just a difficult situation," she said."

J.E. Robbins students were sent home at 10 a.m. on Thursday after cooks running the dishwasher starting complaining of burning eyes and feeling nauseous. Then, Watts Elementary let students out at 11:15 a.m., with Overbrook Elementary following suit and dismissing at noon. All reported odor problems with the water.

Riverside High School and Midland Trail Elementary remained closed Thursday after dismissing early Wednesday because of similar complaints.

The National Guard will be coming back into the schools complaining of the odor to retest the water, taking samples before and after another round of flushing.

"Hopefully gain the people's confidence that these schools have been cleared and it's safe for them to consume and and use the water," 1st Sgt. Brian Burns said.

Guard members said all schools retested still have non detect levels below 10 parts per billion for MCHM.

"Odors are not completely harmless but then again this is a smell that we've been dealing with for day 28 today. So, there's no more danger today than it was 28 days ago," Dr. Rahul Gupta said.

Duerring said from now on, if an odor is detected, a response team will be sent in to assess the situation before school would be dismissed.

"That I think will give our community and our people piece of mind as well as us here worrying about our children everyday," said Duerring said.

"Kanawha County Schools have followed all flushing protocols and in many cases have gone beyond requirements in an effort to ensure student safety. We also continue to provide bottled water, cook with bottled water, and make available hand sanitizer. In addition, all schools in the county were tested last week and all were reported at the non-detect level," said Lawrence Messina with W.Va. Military Affairs and Public Safety.

"Health experts have told us that odors may remain in the water but that does not mean the school is unsafe," Duerring said. "We understand that students, parents and teachers remain concerned. So in an effort to bring peace of mind to parents, we are working with a response team which will be called out if a concern arises. The team will consist of the National Guard, local health officials and county staff members. Finally, over the next few weeks the response team will conduct random inspections and additional random sampling. You can expect to see these teams in your schools," he said.

Duerring said he expects all schools in Kanawha County to be open on Friday.




CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Bethany Simmons) -- Kanawha County Superintendent Ron Duerring issued a statement Thursday after five county schools closed in two days time after water concerns.

"Tests were conducted by the West Virginia National Guard in the three Kanawha County schools that were dismissed early today because of reported odor issues in the schools. Results from all three schools ( J.E. Robins, Overbrook and Watts) came back as non-detect. In consultation with Kanawha–Charleston Health Department officials, the Governor’s Office, National Guard and the West Virginia Department of Education, the decision was made to keep schools open," Duerring said.

Students at J.E. Robins, Overbrook and Watts Elementary in Charleston were all dismissed early Thursday. On Wednesday, Riverside High School and Midland Trail Elementary were closed early due to water concerns.

Duerring added that schools countywide "have followed all flushing protocols and in many cases have gone beyond requirements in an effort to ensure student safety. We also continue to provide bottled water, cook with bottled water, and make available hand sanitizer. In addition, all schools in the county were tested last week and all were reported at the non-detect level."

Duerring said health experts told them that odors may remain in the water, but that does not mean the school is unsafe.

"We understand that students, parents and teachers remain concerned. So in an effort to bring peace of mind to parents, we are working with a Response Team which will be called out if a concern arises. The team will consist of the National Guard, local health officials and county staff members," Duerring said.

He added that during the next few weeks, the Response Team would be conducting random inspections, additional random sampling and therefore, to expect those teams in schools.




CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Bethany Simmons) -- Three additional Kanawha County schools have closed due to water concerns, marking the fifth school in the county to do so over the past two days.

Watts Elementary School on Charleston's West Side announced in an automated message that it would be dismissing students at 11:15 a.m. Thursday. Overbrook Elementary School in South Hills said it would close at noon Thursday, according to the West Virginia Department of Education's website.

Earlier Thursday, J.E. Robins Elementary on the West Side of Charleston also dismissed students.

On Wednesday, Riverside High School and Midland Trail Elementary School in Kanawha County were closed after flushing reportedly caused students and staff to experience symptoms. Those Eastern Kanawha County schools remained closed on Thursday.

Also, on Wednesday, officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Environmental Protection Agency met with Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and held a news conference. Dr. Tanja Popovic of the CDC described the water Wednesday as "appropriate for use."




CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- A third Kanawha County school has cancelled classes because of an odor resembling the chemical that spilled into a regional water system last month.

West Virginia Department of Education spokeswoman Liza Cordeiro says Kanawha County Schools Superintendent Ron Duerring directed J.E. Robins Elementary School in Charleston to close Thursday morning as a precautionary measure.

Cordeiro says she was told that a cook was using a dishwasher when the smell began. Both the cook and a custodian reported burning eyes.

She says the school plans to do more flushing and water testing.

Riverside High and Midland Elementary remained closed Thursday. Both schools cancelled classes Wednesday morning because of the licorice smell.

The Jan. 9 spill of crude MCHM spurred a nine-county water use ban for days.

Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.




CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Jeff Morris) -- A West Side elementary school in Charleston was closing early Thursday over water concerns.

J.E. Robins Elementary was scheduled to close at 10 a.m. Thursday due to water concerns, according to an automated message from the school.

A woman who answered the phone at the school said there was a minor smell in the air. When asked if it was a licorice smell, the woman said it was. In the wake of the MCHM chemical spill in the area that led to a massive water crisis, many people have reported a licorice smell from their water.

Several schools in Eastern Kanawha County were dismissed early Wednesday after people complained of strong fumes that surfaced after the plumbing systems at the schools were reflushed. Those schools, Riverside High School and Midland Trail Elementary remained closed on Thursday.



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