W.Va. utility giving credits after chemical spill

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — After having to run faucets to clear out their systems, West Virginia residents and small businesses who had to stop using water because the supply was tainted by a chemical spill will get a break on their bills.

One-time relief credits in the $10 to $20 range could start trickling in this week for West Virginia American Water customers, who still are skeptical of the water quality after last month's spill. The credits will cost the company $1 million, said spokeswoman Laura Jordan.

President Jeff McIntyre said American Water is trying to rebuild public trust of its water, which officials weeks ago deemed safe for everyone but pregnant women to drink.

The company has said its filters should be fine after the spill. But it plans to switch them out as early as next month because of perception issues, McIntyre told a state House of Delegates health committee Monday.

Filters at the plant were successfully treating the chemical for about an hour on Jan. 9 before it overwhelmed the system that afternoon, McIntyre said.

McIntyre also discovered that decades-old original plans for the Charleston water plant included a second water intake. But government officials nixed the idea for an alternate water source at the plant completed in 1973, he said.

"I don't believe it was ever discussed again, but I can't say that for a fact," McIntyre said. "We're still researching."

The Jan. 9 chemical spill by Freedom Industries spurred a water ban that lasted four to 10 days for 300,000 residents.

West Virginia American Water will give small businesses a 2,000-gallon credit worth about $20.58 per water bill. The credit for 5,280 affected small businesses accounts for flushing their systems and additional cleaning requirements.

Many small businesses were temporarily shuttered without access to clean water, and they faced health department cleanup requirements to reopen. Several have sued Freedom Industries over lost profits, but the company's bankruptcy proceedings have temporarily frozen those lawsuits.

Residents across nine counties will get a 1,000-gallon credit, or about 10 days of normal water use. President Jeff McIntyre said Monday the water company plans to start applying credits this week.

Also Tuesday, State Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Tom Aluise confirmed that two state air quality employees have appeared in front of a federal grand jury about the spill. U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin's office announced a federal investigation into the Jan. 9 spill the day after it occurred.

And on Wednesday, officials from the federal agency that helped determine when people could use their water again are coming to Charleston.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin will give Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials an update Wednesday. Federal Environmental Protection Agency officials will join them.

After the spill, the CDC created a safe level for citizens to start using their water again. Days after a water-use ban was lifted for thousands of people, the agency then said pregnant women should avoid drinking the water.

It's unclear if the visit will include any public participation.

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