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Vocabulary Of Water Crisis Omits Word "Safe"

Reported: Feb. 10, 2014 10:46 PM EST
Updated: Feb. 11, 2014 8:52 AM EST
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Stefano DiPietrantonio) - We've been waiting to hear with certainty, the word it seems nobody wants to say, especially at that congressional hearing Monday. The vocabulary of the water crisis has evolved over the last few weeks.

It's the four-letter word it seems nobody wants to utter out loud, or with any conviction: S-A-F-E. We wanted to look at the progression of the adjectives used over the last few weeks to describe our water. We've heard appropriate, acceptable, even chemical levels described as, “non-detectable”. But does that make any of us feel any safer about the water?

"We continue to work until the smell is eradicated from the system,” said Jeff McIntyre, President of West Virginia American Water. “Well, thank you for that answer,” said Republican Congresswoman Shelly Moore Capito. “I'd still like to hear it's safe."

And so would everybody else. But nobody will say, it’s safe.

"That's, in a way,” sighed Dr. Letitia Tierney with the WV Bureau Of Public Health. “A difficult thing to say, because everybody has a different definition of safe."

The dictionary spells it out in black and white. Safe: "Protected from or not exposed to danger or risk; not likely to be harmed or lost."

So how come no one else can say this about the water?

"Some people think it's safe to jump off the bridge on bridge day,” said Dr. Tierney. “Um, I don't personally think that's safe. I'm as confident as I can be, given what we had. I believe the water, based on the standards we have, is usable for every purpose."

Usable for every purpose, so does that mean safe?

"You consider it to be safe?,” asked Democratic Congressman Joe Manchin. “Well....I consider that the toxicology that exists," said the man on the panel, again with no mention of the word safe. "So nobody's gonna say it's safe, that's what I'm hearing from everybody here," said Manchin exasperated.

Here’s what the rep from the Centers for Disease Control told us, when we pressed her for an answer February 5th.

“We simply don't use those words,” said Tanja Popovic with the CDC. “And I understand you may want somebody to say that. but the water is appropriate for use!"

Appropriate for use, so does that mean safe?

"Safety is our number one priority,” said McIntyre. “Continuous sampling, and treatment is critical. Our present objective is no detectable MCHM in the distribution system water."

Non-detectable, but safe?

"We're using different words,” said McIntyre. “Everyone's dealing with this. I'm not the health-based organization, so I'm not the one who determines safe."

"If some expert group told me, it was safe, I don't think I'd believe it," said Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller.

"Somebody oughta just say it, it has to be zero!" said Manchin.

"I suspect the main reason why is everybody's afraid they're gonna get sued," said Republican Representative Bill Shuster from Pennsylvania.

And lawmakers say the records will be open for the next 30 days, if anyone has any further testimony to add. Bottom line here, restoring that trust and getting that four-letter word S-A-F-E into a conversation, are both going to be uphill battles.



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