CHARLESTON, W.Va. (1/13/14) – Members of the West Virginia National Guard’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High-Yield Explosive Enhanced Response Force Package, along with members from four Civil Support Teams (West Virginia, Ohio, Tennessee and the District of Columbia) have been working around the clock drawing water samples from across the Kanawha Valley to determine levels of contamination remaining in local water supply.
Soldiers, civilian chemists and West Virginia American Water employees have set up a command center at the water company’s testing plant in downtown Charleston.
As of Monday figures, about 535 Airmen and Soldiers were working to ease the crisis.
“We’re running tests and compiling all of the samples,” said Maj. Walter Hatfield, CERF-P operations officer. “The CERF-P has been on site since Friday night. Members have been analyzing samples hourly since the contamination issue first arose Thursday evening.
The Centers for Disease Control has indicated that water levels must be at 1ppm before the “do not use” order can be lifted. Officials with WVAW have stated that system flushing can begin once that level has been maintained for a specific length of time.
“We actually go out and collect the samples [from various locations]. They get logged in with the 35th CST (WVNG).”
Hatfield added that they have access to three mobile analytical laboratory systems from the supporting teams.
“I think one of the high points of all of this has been being able to embed with the CST,” Hatfield said. He noted that the Civil Support Teams bring a new level of capabilities to the mission that the CERF-P does not possess.
“In a typical CERF-P mission, we would stand up all of the facets of our team (search and extraction, decontamination, medical and command),” Hatfield said. “Last year, during Hurricane Sandy, we were able to modify and modularize our team to be able to assist in unique situations like this. This adds to our mission.”
Sampling teams continue to travel to multiple locations throughout the nine impacted counties collecting jars of water for testing. Hospitals and other businesses open their doors in the hopes that every jar of water brings them one step closer to a return to business as usual.
“We’re wondering how long until we can begin sterilizing our instruments.” said Rachel Pauley, operating room manager at the Charleston Surgical Hospital.
Soldiers in the field, such as Staff Sgt. David Reeves with the 35th CST, can offer no immediate answers, but will continue to monitor the water and work side-by-side with interagency partners until a solution is reached.