The Richmond Register

January 30, 2014

Berea College students taking water to West Virginia

By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer

RICHMOND — Since the Jan. 9 chemical leak that contaminated the water supply of nearly 300,000 around Charleston, W.Va., a group of Bereans has been doing what they can to supply clean water to those still affected.

Bottled water and clean jugs filled with tap water are being collected at the Berea College Loyal Jones Appalachian Center, 205 S. Main St., through 5 p.m. Friday and Union Church, 200 Prospect St., through 3 p.m. Sunday.

In Richmond, donated jugs of water can be taken to the Richmond Register, 380 Big Hill Ave, through 5 p.m. Friday.

A group of Berea College students and recent graduates will leave Monday morning, pick up additional donations in Lexington and deliver them to a clean-water hub in Charleston.

The next day, they will take some of the water to surrounding areas, said Anna McWhorter, a Berea College senior who will be making the trip. A second trip is scheduled Feb. 14.

“Students have taken it upon themselves to help,” said Appalachian Studies professor Silas House who has been helping collect donations. “Sometimes when I get discouraged, and I think there are too many battles to fight, (the students) inspire me to keep going.”

House said friends of his in Charleston say that federal water aid appears to have stopped.

December Berea graduate Willie Dodson took the first load of about 100 gallons to West Virginia shortly after the spill.

The college’s Jan. 23 convocation speaker, Saro Lynch-Thomason, who told the story of the West Virginia mine wars of 1900-1921, took a load of water back with her this past week on her way home, McWhorter said.

During a presentation at Union Church, where Dodson attends, he said there will be a need for water in West Virginia for quite a while, especially in some of the rural areas.

He is working with various businesses and churches in rural West Virginia communities to distribute the water to residents.

“It’s very hard to measure how much of the need we are filling, but there is no shortage of people stopping to collect (the donated) water,” he said.

Although a final drinking ban was lifted Jan. 18, Dodson said some people still do not “trust the water.”

Even some of the fast food restaurants have posted signs that indicate they are still only serving bottled water, he said.

Dodson’s girlfriend, who lives in Charleston, vomited four times while he spoke on the phone with her the day of the spill, he said. And while he was there visiting, he turned on the tap and “it still smelled like chemicals.”

Affected water could not even be used for bathing because the contaminants included skin irritants.

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection said that approximately 10,000 gallons of the chemicals 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (also known as MCHM) and PPH were released into Elk River, more than what was previously estimated, the Huffington Post reported Monday.

Freedom Industries, which owns the tank that leaked into the river, initially said 7,500 gallons were spilled. The presence of the second chemical, PPH, was not disclosed until just last week.

Formaldehyde also was found in local water samples, Marshall University environmental engineer Scott Simonton told The Charleston Gazette on Tuesday. A main component of MCHM is methanol, which breaks down into formaldehyde, reported Simonton, who also is a member of the West Virginia Environmental Quality Board.

Although the state’s Department of Health and Human Resources Department called the engineer’s claims “totally unfounded,” the Charleston Gazette reported, Simonton said, “Your level of what risk you will accept is up to you. I can only tell you what mine is, and I’m not drinking the water."

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Crystal Wylie can be reached at or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.