By Mackenzie Mays
The Charleston Gazette
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- More than 840 people have signed an online petition to get Kanawha County Schools to supply bottled water for students through the end of the school year.
But state officials can't say how long they'll be able to continue supplying packaged water to students.
The petition, created on the website MoveOn.org in response to last month's chemical leak, asks the state's largest school district to supply water for everything but toilet flushing until school ends in late May.
Schools across nine counties that were impacted by the Freedom Industries chemical leak into the Elk River Jan. 9 have since been supplying bottled water to students while also advising school cooks to prepare meals with the clean water. Sinks and water fountains have been off-limits as well.
"An end date for bottled water has not been established," West Virginia Department of Education spokeswoman Liza Cordeiro said Monday. "Ultimately that service is being provided in collaboration with the National Guard. ... There's an expectation they'll continue to provide it, but a final date is not determined."
Members of the National Guard delivered packaged water to all schools affected by the leak and also have taken water samples to test school faucets for Crude MCHM, the coal-cleaning chemical that leaked.
All tests conducted at the schools currently show "non-detect" levels of MCHM, meaning the chemical is under 10 parts per billion -- the state standard being used to clear schools, which is 1,000 times stricter than the standard set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Cordeiro said it's important for people to know that just because schools are still supplying students with bottled water doesn't mean that the tap water is unsafe.
"We've received tests back, and even the more stringent and rigorous tests are showing the non-detect level for our schools. However, to bring peace of mind to our parents and to be sensitive to counties, we're continuing to provide that water," she said.
Twila Blake, of Charleston, who signed the petition on Monday, commented on the website that "Bottled water should be used until they can prove that the tap water is absolutely safe to drink."
Judy Lanham, of Elkview, said, "If you care about our children, you will honor this request."
While schools initially were reopened after following faucet-flushing protocol, last week some abruptly closed following reports of the now-familiar licorice odor.
Riverside High School and three Charleston elementary schools had to dismiss students early after reports of fainting, nausea and burning eyes while faucets were running.
Mountaineer Montessori School announced Monday school officials had hired an independent testing of the water "to supplement free testing provided by the National Guard."
"All samples tested well below the levels of MCHM (1 part per million) that the CDC has determined is 'acceptable for use.' Based upon these results, students will now be allowed to use sinks for hand washing with a permission slip from their parents. They may also continue to use bottled water, hand sanitizer and wipes," an MMS release said. "Use of tap water for drinking, dishwashing and other uses that might result in exposure by ingestion will continue to be prohibited until the Phase II of testing is completed."
For more information on the petition, visit http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/use-bottled-water-in.