Water company gives instructions on flushing process
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Now that West Virginia American Water has given their Charleston water plant a clean bill of health, customers are slowly being told they can flush their household water lines.
"My wife is looking forward to washing some clothes," said Tim Maddox, who lives on Virginia Street in Charleston's East End. Maddox and his wife, Laura, were flushing their water lines Monday afternoon after being given the go-ahead.
"We've been doing what everybody else has [during the emergency]," Tim Maddox said. He and Laura visited their daughter in Cincinnati on Sunday and took their first showers since the Freedom Industries chemical storage facility on Barlow Drive leaked 7,500 gallons of a chemical called Crude MCHM into the Elk River.
The chemical, used in the coal industry, was sucked into West Virginia American's water intake pipes just downstream, causing water officials to tell customers in parts of nine counties that they couldn't use the water.
Water officials issued a specific set of instructions Monday for flushing household water lines, and began clearing neighborhoods for flushing by zones.
Water officials posted a color-coded map on their website, www.westvirginiaamwater.com, to tell customers when it was safe to start flushing. Areas not yet safe to use water were to be in red, while areas where flushing could begin were to be coded blue.
Both the water map and detailed instructions on how to flush water lines are listed on the website. However, extremely high traffic to the website Monday afternoon made it difficult for many residents to get to the information.
Maddox said he couldn't get onto the website Monday, but heard enough information from the media to start flushing his pipes.
Water company officials were advising residents to first flush all the hot-water spigots in their homes for 15 minutes by opening the valves. Water company officials said residents shouldn't have to clean out their hot-water tanks if they let the hot water run for 15 minutes.
Residents were then advised to then open all cold-water faucets for five minutes, including running refrigerator water dispensers. Next, outdoor faucets were to be opened for at least five minutes.
Finally, residents were told to flush all appliances that make use of water. Ice in icemakers should be thrown away, filters changed, and a second batch of ice made and discarded. The ice tray should also be washed.
Dishwashers and washing machines should be run one time empty to flush them out, and dishes or clothes that were washed during the water emergency should be rewashed once the washing machines are clean.
Water in CPAP machines or other medical or health-care devices should be thrown out and the devices rinsed with clean water. Any baby formula or drinks made with tainted water should also be thrown away. Pet bowls should also be emptied and washed.
External devices like water softeners, sediment filters or reverse osmosis machines should have filters changed before flushing the system. The membrane in the reverse osmosis system should not need to be changed, water company officials said.
Maddox said he was replacing the filters in his refrigerator and the water filter on his tap. He and his wife had bottled water left over from the water emergency, and planned to use it before drinking his tap water.
Water officials said tap water may still have an odor after flushing, because the odor threshold of the chemical is lower than the level health officials deem safe. Additional flushing won't help get rid of the smell, water officials said.
Area plumbers were reluctant Monday to offer additional advice on flushing household water systems.
"We're plumbing contractors, not chemists," said Jay Marino, president of Al Marino Inc., a Charleston plumbing business dating from 1952. "I'd follow their protocol."
Marino did advise homeowners with ice machines to run several batches of ice through the device before using it, and said it might be a good idea for homeowners to open faucets closest to their home's main shutoff valve first, then move out through the house like the spokes on a wheel. That process is similar to one plumbers use when flushing lines for other reasons.
Marino said no one knows yet what the effects of the chemical might be on gaskets, rubber seals, O-rings or toilet seals. He advised homeowners to be vigilant, and if a seal or gasket starts to leak, replace it.
But he did have one strong suggestion.
"Don't walk away from a running faucet," he said. He said someone should keep an eye on faucets while flushing the water lines to make sure drains don't overflow. Reach Rusty Marks at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1215.