By Frank Lewis
Portsmouth Waterworks Director Sam Sutherland said Friday that at no point was anyone whose water source is the city’s water system at risk during the recent chemical spill at the Elk River in West Virginia.
Once the spill began to make the national news, and it was disclosed that some areas, such as Portsmouth, had chosen to treat the possible problem with carbon, while places like Cincinnati chose to shut off their intake valves, calls began to flow into the Waterworks office and the Daily Times with a series of rumors — including a rumor that the city didn’t have the capability to shut off its intake valves because of some mechanical problem.
“That is not true,” Sutherland said. “We could have shut off.”
Another rumor was that the additional chemicals used to treat the water costs multiple thousands of dollars.
“I think with the price that I got to replace what we used, the cost was somewhere around $1,040,” Sutherland said, quickly adding, “We had some overtime costs. I think I sent something to the city manager around $1,200. That was counting their benefits and everything. So it was $1,200 for man-hours and $1,040 for carbon.”
Sutherland said the decisions made by the various cities involved downstream were simply a case of preference as to how they chose to treat the problem. At the height of the monitoring of the chemical levels, Sutherland had reported to the Times that, after augmenting their equipment to try to find a trace of the chemical - Crude MCHM or 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol - they were barely able to get a reading, and when they did, it was far below acceptable levels.
“Look at it,” Sutherland said. “Upstream from us — Huntington (W.Va.), Ashland (Ky.), Ironton — they didn’t (shut off valves). They came through it just fine.”
Was there any danger for the local water supply?
“We were not even noways near close (to dangerous levels),” Sutherland said. “What the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) was allowing Charleston to let out in their system, we were not even close to that.”
Another report said that pregnant women were in danger if they came in contact with the water.
“We got calls from pregnant women, and we’re trying to reassure them that we didn’t see anything like they dealt with there (Elk River) at all,” Sutherland said. “It was a minute amount compared to what they had to deal with over there. Absolutely it’s their choice. If they would be concerned. But in our eyes we didn’t see anything that would make us even want to say that to people.”
Sutherland said if he had even had any idea that the Portsmouth water supply would have been in danger, he would have shut off the valves immediately.
Frank Lewis can be reached at 740-353-3101, Ext. 252, or on Twitter @FrankLewispdt.