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Water/Waste Processing e-News / Drinking Water

Health effects from West Virginia chemical spill underestimated

April 24, 2014
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The West Virginia water contamination that resulted from a chemical spill in the Elk River had more widespread health effects on local residents than previously estimated. Figures from the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department have revealed that the number of people who experienced adverse effects from the contamination was between 92,000 and 108,000.

According to Dr. Rahul Gupta, chief health officer for the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, there were two symptom peaks recorded. The first one was on Jan. 9, when the chemicals spilled from the Freedom Industries plant into the river, and the second one was on Jan. 13, which was around the time when residents were told to flush, he explained.

Earlier figures suggested there were 26 people admitted to hospital and hundreds of others who were treated and released from hospitals over the nine affected counties. But the latest data shows that those numbers were misleading on the seriousness of the spill because only a small proportion of those who experienced symptoms related to the spill sought medical help. In fact, thousands of West Virginia residents experienced itchy hands, burning eyes or breathing difficulties but did not report them at all, Dr. Gupta said, quoting data from local physicians.

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These cases should be considered when assessing the wider effect of the chemical spill and the overall public health impact, he told West Virginia MetroNews.

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