Energy & Environment
11:43 am
Thu March 27, 2014

White Foam on Elk River Investigated, WVAM Says No Effect on Water Quality

Credit Department of Environmental Protection

Updated Thursday March 27, 2014 at 10:53 p.m.

West Virginia America Water says test results of foam samples taken earlier today from the Elk River are complete. As the company suspected in a release earlier today, the completed test results "indicate no changes to source water quality and no characteristics outside of typical water quality parameters."

The company manages an intake for 30,000 residents in Charleston and surrounding areas that lost access to clean tap water after a chemical spill contaminated the Elk River on January 9.

In previous statements West Virginia American Water pointed out  that foam can naturally occur in organic waterways.

“After receiving notification of a foam on the Elk River this morning, and with the health and safety of our customers as our number one priority, we made the decision to shut down the plant’s raw water intake pumps for approximately two hours until more information could be gathered,” President Jeff McIntyre said in a release late Thursday night.

“System conditions today allowed for the plant to maintain adequate water storage during this brief time, which was a very different circumstance than on the day of the Freedom Industries spill. At that time, the decision to maintain water service to customers for firefighting and basic sanitation was the best decision for the communities we serve.”

Updated Thursday March 27, 2014 at 6:16 p.m.

The 35th Civil Support Team of the West Virginia National Guard Thursday afternoon received a sample of the foam on the Elk River drawn by the Department of Environmental Protection.

Lawrence Messina of Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety said the CST tested the sample with a gas chromatography–mass spectrometry instrument to identify whether the foam contained man-made substances.

"Analysis of the chromatograph did not show any compounds present in the sample," said Messina in an email.

Updated Thursday March 27, 2014 at 5:30 p.m.

West Virginia American Water said in a news release that initial testing of foam spotted on the Elk River Thursday indicates "no changes to source water quality and no characteristics  outside of typical water quality parameters."

Additional tests are being conducted and are expected Thursday evening.

The release also states that, following notification from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, staff investigated the Elk River upstream of the Kanawha Valley water treatment plant intake.

The company said they shut down the Elk River Treatment plant’s raw water intake pumps for approximately two hours until more information could be gathered.

Original Post from Thursday, March 27 at 11:43 a.m.

Officials with the Department of Environmental Protection and Kanawha County Emergency Management are investigating a white foam substance spotted Thursday morning on the Elk River. The DEP was alerted of the incident when a resident contacted local TV news station WSAZ, who then relayed the information to county officials.

DEP Communications Director Kelley Gillenwater said the substance was spotted upstream of the Freedom Industries site. She said DEP inspectors are on site and West Virginia American Water has been notified as per protocol.

Kanawha County Deputy Emergency Manager C.W. Sigman said officials believe the substance might be soap suds but a county emergency manager is on site. He said they're making use of an interactive mapping program to attempt to locate the substance's origin. 

In a news release, West Virginia American Water said they were notified of the situation around 8:40 a.m. Thursday and water quality staff from the Kanawha Valley treatment plant are investigating the foam spotted "intermittently along the banks of the Elk River from Coonskin to Queen Shoals, as well as along Big Sandy Creek in the Clendenin area."

The water company says the foams appears to be "naturally occurring" but staff are taking samples to the Charleston plant for pH, turbidity and conductivity analysis. The release states samples are also being taken to the Huntington plant for further organics analysis.