Guardsmen Team Up to Tackle West Virginia Water Crisis

CHARLESTON, W.Va., Jan. 13, 2014 – Members of the West Virginia National Guard’s chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high-yield explosive enhanced response force package, along with members from West Virginia, Ohio and District of Columbia civil support teams, have been working around the clock drawing water samples from across West Virginia’s Kanawha Valley to determine levels of contamination remaining in the water supply.

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Army Staff Sgt. David Reeves of the West Virginia National Guard’s 35th Civil Support Team collects a water sample at St. Francis Hospital in Charleston, W.Va., Jan. 11, 2014. Team members have been collecting samples and monitoring chemical levels in the water since a contamination issue was detected Jan. 10. U.S. Army photo by Lt. Col. Todd Harrell

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Hundreds of thousands of people in nine West Virginia counties are unable to use their tap water as a precaution following a chemical spill.

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. Defense Department officials said today that 31 Army and Air National Guardsmen on civil support teams are conducting water and air sampling operations and 485 West Virginia Army and Air National Guardsmen are on state active duty, assisting with water distribution and logistics.

“We’re running tests and compiling all of the samples,” said Army Maj. Walter Hatfield, CERF-P operations officer. “The CERF-P has been on site since [the night of Jan. 10]. Members have been analyzing samples hourly since the contamination issue first arose [the evening before].”

Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have indicated that water levels must be at one part per million before a “do not use” order can be lifted, Hatfield said, adding that West Virginia American Water officials say system flushing can begin once that level has been maintained for a length of time.

The CERF-P collects the samples from various locations, Hatfield said, and the West Virginia National Guard’s 35th Civil Support Team logs them in. The CERF-P has 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 [civil support team],” Hatfield said, noting that the teams bring a new level of capabilities to the mission that the CERF-P does not possess.

Sampling teams continue to travel to multiple locations throughout the nine affected 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 returning 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 Army Staff Sgt. David Reeves with the 35th CST, said they 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.