Health concerns grow 1 month after W. Virginia chemical spill - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Health concerns grow 1 month after W. Virginia chemical spill

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People in West Virginia say they're still getting sick from chemically contaminated water that officials say is OK to use. (Source: CNN) People in West Virginia say they're still getting sick from chemically contaminated water that officials say is OK to use. (Source: CNN)

(CNN) – It's been more than a month since a chemical spill contaminated the water in a West Virginia town.

Officials say the water is OK to drink now, but the people who live there are saying that's not the case.

Some residents in West Virginia are experiencing skin irritation and other ailments when they use the contaminated water.

"Within a couple of minutes, I'll have a headache," said West Virginia resident Joe Merchant said about the steam from the shower.

Merchant is not alone – after a chemical spill last month, officials instituted a water ban for about a week, then lifted it, saying the chemical was at very low levels.

But new date from West Virginia shows when people started drinking and bathing again, visits to emergency rooms and doctor's offices increased, with people saying the water had made them sick with rashes headaches and vomiting.

Even the county health department has posted signs that say "don't drink the water."

"The official agencies are saying it's OK to drink. They're not saying it's safe to drink," said Dr. Rahul Gupta of the Kanawha-Charleston and Putnam County Health Department. "I think it's very important for us to make that distinction here. We've got to make sure the water is safe. That's really the word here. People are looking for that word."

The word "safe" is nowhere in the official guidance from the Centers for Disease Control. The CDC said just said, based on animal studies, they'd calculate levels of the chemical "a person could likely ingest without resulting in adverse health effects."

But that warning is not good enough for Dr. Gupta, who is still avoiding the water.

Gupta says in some places, like his house, you can still smell the chemical and it hasn't disappeared.

This week, the governor of West Virginia asked the CDC to do more testing. The CDC has not continued monitoring health problems there.

"The event seems to be over for a lot of people's perspective at the state and federal level," Gupta said. "But, on the ground, when we talk to people, deal with everyday people, the event is not over by any means. They continue to suffer. They are continuing to have issues."

With no studies on the chemical's effect on humans, some residents and businesses aren't taking any chances.

In a recent survey, only four percent of people in the area say they're drinking tap water, water that "officially" is fine to drink.

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