Thursday, January 23, 2014

CDC says pregnant W.Va. women should have been told more about risks of drinking water

Pregnant women should have been warned sooner about the dangers of drinking tap water after the chemical spill in West Virginia, according to a top scientist for the federal Centers for Disease Control, Ken Ward reports for The Charleston Gazette. Dr. Vikas Kapil, chief medical officer for the CDC's National Center for Environmental Health, also said "West Virginians should have been given clearer information that the 1-part-per-million screening level for the toxic chemical 'crude MCHM' was not a 'bright line' between what exposures are safe and unsafe." (Getty Images photo by Tom Hindman: Bottled water distribution) 

Kapil said "the CDC was working with very limited data and in an emergency situation, but that agency officials could have communicated the uncertainties more carefully to the 300,000 residents whose water was contaminated," Ward writes. Kapil told him, "It would have been probably preferable to provide that kind of information up front."

The spill occurred Jan. 9, and "state officials and West Virginia American Water cleared residents to begin drinking the tap water starting on Monday evening, Jan. 13," Ward writes. Two days later, on Jan. 15, "the state Department of Health and Human Resources announced that it was warning pregnant women to drink only bottled water -- at least for now." Initially, officials said "they added the advisory to pregnant women only out of 'an abundance of caution' to protect developing fetuses. But a letter from the CDC to the DHHR suggested federal officials had obtained some additional studies that led to the advisory."

Still, Kapil expressed confidence "that the 1-part-per-million guidance is protective for most people, and that the region's water is safe, given that state sampling continues to show decreasing levels of crude MCHM, with more and more samples listed with 'non-detect' results," Ward writes. West Virginia American Water President Jeff McIntyre said in a statement Wednesday "that 'the majority of samples' are reading non-detectable." (Read more)

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