Black Water in WV Undergoing Testing

Tuesday, December 13, 2016 @ 02:12 PM gHale

The water turned black in Gary, WV, and residents will soon learn how serious their water problem is, or if they have a problem at all.

“We just don’t yet,” said Mayor Thomas Vineyard on Sunday. “The water is being tested and the results should be back Tuesday.”

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In the meantime, residents of the almost 500 households on the town’s water supply have been advised not to use the water for drinking or cooking, even if it is boiled first.

That’s because no one knows yet if the sudden discoloration is a chemical issue, which would not be affected by boiling, Vineyard said.

Some relief will be available as bottled water is now coming in and it will be ready for pickup, Vineyard said.

The problem began Thursday evening when residents and water plant workers started noticing a discoloration.

“The water turned black, like coal,” Vineyard said. “It’s never happened before. The water has always been good.”

Harry Parks, water plant supervisor, notified the regional health department Friday of the issue.

“We drained the tanks and opened the valves and notified the district,” he said.

An advisory went out for residents not to drink or cook with the water, but it was okay for bathroom use.

“I called John Stafford,” Parks said. Stafford is with the West Virginia Health Department in Beckley and he came to Gary.

Parks treated the water for the discoloration, a normal procedure, and it did clear up.

“Stafford took quite a few samples of water,” Vineyard said. “We still don’t know what turned it black or if there is anything harmful in it.”

The source of the town’s water is a well located in the #3 seam of the old U.S. Steel #2 mine, said former Mayor Shirley Duncan.

That well started being used by the town when the mine “worked out” about 40 years ago, she said, with pumps on top of the ground and casings running down into the well.

The well has produced good water to the city’s water plant all that time.

However, a surface mining operation is on top of the mountain behind those pumps, she said.

Vineyard said the mining operation has slurry ponds.

“We don’t know if that is a factor,” he said. “It never has been before.”

The mining operation, formerly listed as owned by GreenFields Coal Co., based in Beckley, is now closed and has been for eight to nine months, he said.

The mine has been there for many years, he said, and the water has not been impacted by it.

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