Agencies start different chemical leak health studies

April 4, 2014 by Dave Boucher

Federal, state and local health officials are moving forward with studies examining  possible effects from the January massive chemical leak.

Dr. Letitia Tierney, state health officer and commissioner of the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health

Dr. Letitia Tierney, state health officer and commissioner of the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health

The Department of Health and Human Resources, working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and WVU,  as well as the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department announced this week they’re starting different surveys stemming from the Freedom Industries leak that contaminated tap water for 300,000 West Virginia residents.

The state is conducting what’s called a Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response, or CASPER, study. Representatives are going door-to-door asking randomly selected households about “public health concerns” during the spill, according to a press release.

(Keep in mind, the CDC,  DHHR and its Bureau for Public Health still aren’t ready to even say whether the more than 500 people complaining of rashes, eye problems and breath issues didn’t necessarily suffer from the flu or anxiety.)

“The results of the CASPER will help state and local officials improve response to future emergencies, including effective communication with the public,” said Dr. Letitia Tierney, state health officer and head of the Bureau For Public Health.
About 30 volunteers are conducting the survey Tuesday through Thursday.
In Kanawha County, the health department is conducting a survey over the phone. Over the weekend and next week, volunteers are calling 6,000 random numbers in the area and asking residents to complete a survey.
“When we compile the results, we’ll have valuable information about all aspects of the chemical spill, including how it affected people’s confidence and when and how they first became aware of the spill,” said Dr. Rahul Gupta, head of the local department.
You can participate too, if you’d like (and if you live in Kanawha County). Gupta said you can call (304) 348-6494 or email if you’d like to volunteer.
He’s also quick to point out his survey is different than Tierney’s survey. While he says both will provide valuable information, “it’s important to understand that these are two very different assessments.”
He also says it’s important to complete the studies prior to April 9 because people have difficulty remembering exact symptoms or problems as time passes.
Dr. Rahul Gupta, leader of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department.

Dr. Rahul Gupta, leader of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department.

The ongoing public feud between Tierney and Gupta was pretty obvious during the spill, and it seems its not over yet.
While Gupta has repeatedly voiced the need to conduct studies as soon after the spill as possible, it’s difficult to see why either the his department, Tierney’s bureau, the DHHR or the CDC decided suddenly it was best to conduct these surveys three months after the spill was first discovered.
Meanwhile, the CDC still says its not done with an analysis of medical records compiled during the spill. State officials have said this analysis, which is supposed to definitively say whether symptoms were in fact connected to the leak, is key in moving forward with longterm medical monitoring.
Legislation recently signed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin calls for the bureau to at least pursue the possibility of such a study.
Gupta says the results of his department’s survey will be available within 30 days of gathering the information. The DHHR news release doesn’t say when–or whether–the state will reveal the results of the CASPER study.

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