Survey Reveals Public Attitudes on West Virginia Chemical Spill

May 13, 2014

About one-third of those who responded to a survey conducted three months after a chemical spilled into the Elk River indicated a member of their household had a spill-related illness, Kanawha County’s health officer said.

Dr. Rahul Gupta released a portion of the survey during a news conference at the University of Charleston. He said additional details will be discussed at a public meeting at UC.

The survey shows 32 percent of respondents reported a family illness after the spill, compared with 67 percent who said their household didn’t have an illness. About 1 percent didn’t know.

Another survey question asked how much residents trusted information and announcements about the chemical spill. It showed 38 percent of respondents gave an “F” grade to West Virginia American Water officials, while 37 percent gave a similar grade to federal officials. Thirty-one percent gave an “F” grade to state officials and 18 percent gave that grade to local officials.

The random telephone survey of county residents was conducted by the health department in April. More than 500 people responded, Gupta said.

The health department released some respondents’ comments but did not identify the individuals.

“I’m concerned about the long-term effects on babies and older people. I believe the water intake should not be located near chemical storage tanks,” one respondent said.

Another respondent said the state’s reputation and tourism will be affected by the spill.

“I just want to be assured the water is safe,” a third respondent said.

The Jan. 9 spill from Freedom Industries’ main Charleston location contaminated 300,000 people’s tap water in nine counties for four to 10 days.

Freedom filed for bankruptcy eight days after the spill. The company is under state orders to demolish the Charleston site.

Dozens of businesses and residents have sued Freedom over lost wages and profits during the water-use ban. Their cases remain frozen while bankruptcy proceedings continue.