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Health Department wraps up water crisis survey

CRAIG CUNNINGHAM/DAILY MAIL Volunteer Barbara "Bobbi" Hess, 60, of Sissionville records the answers to a survey she was helping to take from the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department.

UPDATE: Persons affected by the chemical spill can take the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department’s online survey by clicking this link.

CHARLESTON, W.Va — The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department wrapped up a telephone survey Tuesday that probed respondents about how the Freedom Industries chemical leak and ensuing water crisis affected them.

Meanwhile, a separate, door-to-door survey sponsored by the state Department of Health and Human Resources and the U.S.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began Tuesday with similar objectives.

Dr. Rahul Gupta, health officer and executive director of Kanawha-Charleston, said the department called about 2,000 random Kanawha County phone numbers it purchased from a third-party database.

“This is the first study of its kind that is looking at not only physical but social, psychological and economic impacts of the water crisis on individuals and their households,” Gupta said. “We’re trying to find out everything from when people found out about this incident, the communications aspect of it, how much trust they had in the communications being provided from government and other agencies, what percent of the population had physical complaints and did not go to the doctor’s office, how many people had psychological symptoms, and the very important but underestimated economic impact of it.”

Volunteers administered the 75-question survey to about 400 residents Thursday to Tuesday. Residents were asked varying questions about demographic and socioeconomic background and about their experiences through the water crisis.

Residents were asked if, where, how and at what cost they acquired clean water during the “do not use” order; how they found out about the do-not-use advisory and the times and locations of water distribution locations; if they experienced physical symptoms from contact with contaminated water; whether or not they sought medical attention for injuries; and why they didn’t seek medical attention if they chose not to go to a doctor or emergency room.

Residents were also asked to rank the clarity, helpfulness and trustworthiness of information disseminated by federal, state and local officials, and West Virginia American Water Co. on a grading scale of “A” to “F”.

Residents were asked to describe how much of the time they felt angry, stressed and depressed during the first 30 days after the water emergency, and during the most recent 30 days.

Finally, residents were asked if they are currently using the public water supply, and if so, for what uses.

“This is the first research of its kind that we are conducting after such a historic, unprecedented event,” Gupta said. “We believe this work will be instrumental in addressing future crises and addressing the current impact on our population.”

Gupta said results of the scientific survey will be released within 30 days. He said the survey questions will be available on the Kanawha-Charleston website later this week for residents who are interested in answering the questions, but noted that the online survey will not be scientific. He said the results from the web-based survey will also be released at some point.

Gupta told the Daily Mail he was unable to find grant money to conduct the survey with because the department was still responding to the crisis when the National Institutes of Health’s six-week application window had closed. He said the scope of the survey could have extended to all nine counties with more funding, which would have made the survey more “statistically sound” with a larger sample size.

“We did want to give all counties the benefit we are providing through this study,” Gupta said. “We could not fund money for more counties.”

The DHHR and CDC are conducting a Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response, or CASPER, study separate from the health department’s study. The CDC website says CASPER studies can be used by public health practitioners and emergency management officials to determine the health status and basic needs of communities affected by disasters.

CASPER studies are commonly conducted after large-scale natural disasters, such as major hurricanes, but have also been conducted after man-made disasters like the Deepwater Horizon Gulf Coast Oil Spill in 2010.

Dr. Loretta Haddy, state epidemiologist with the Bureau for Public Health, said the CASPER study will help officials understand the impacts the water emergency had on households through the door-to-door survey so that officials can better assist with recovery efforts.

“We will ask residents about emergency water availability to them before, during, and after the ‘do not use’ order; and about their attitudes and concerns around communication during and after the event,” Haddy said. “This information helps public health and emergency managers to appropriately prioritize their response and recovery actions, as well as the distribution of resources within the community following a disaster.”

Haddy said the CASPER is being conducted throughout the nine-county affected area in collaboration with the CDC, DHHR Bureau for Public Health and the West Virginia University School of Public Health “to provide the community an opportunity to be heard face to face.”

According to a DHHR press release, participation in the survey is optional and answers are kept confidential. Dr. Letitia Tierney, Commissioner for Public Health and State Health Officer, encouraged full participation from each selected household.

Haddy said the CASPER study will help officials determine critical health needs and “assess the impact of the disaster on the community.”

“It will characterize the population residing in the post-disaster area including ongoing health effects; produce population estimates for decision-makers and evaluate the effectiveness of relief efforts using repeated CASPER; and provide household-based information about the affected community’s needs,” Haddy said. “The results will help us prepare for future events by learning what the community’s needs are.”

The objectives of each survey seem to overlap significantly, but both Gupta and Haddy insisted the two surveys are different.

“Other public health officials may be doing similar surveys to meet community needs. They would be the best source of information about what their survey is intended to accomplish,” Haddy said, when asked about Kanawha-Charleston’s telephone survey.

While the number of households being surveyed in the CASPER study weren’t released by any state or federal agencies, Gupta said his health department’s survey will have a larger sample size than the CASPER’s. Gupta said the CASPER study will survey 210 households spanning all nine counties; the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department’s survey will factor about 400 households in Kanawha County only.

“Both are very important and vital to understanding the events,” Gupta said. “More research is always good, obviously.”

The door-to-door CASPER surveying will conclude Thursday, April 10.

Contact writer Marcus Constantino at 304-348-1796 or Follow him at

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