The CDC has expressed similar concerns. "Due to limited availability of data, and out of an abundance of caution, pregnant women may wish to consider an alternative drinking water source until the chemical is at non-detectable levels in the water distribution system," it said in a paper dated Feb. 5. "For mothers with babies, there is no research that suggests consuming water with these low levels of MCHM poses any health risk to their baby. However, if you have any concerns, please consult your doctor."
But the West Virginia Poison Center said in a posting on Feb. 10 that some symptoms, such as nausea and headaches, may not indicate that the chemicals were harmful.
"These symptoms are not due to toxic effects but are a body's physical and real response to unusual smells/tastes," it said, adding that the poison center received calls from more than 1,900 patients reporting chemical exposures related to the drinking water in the days after the spill was reported.
"Most reported symptoms included mild rashes and reddened skin from dermal exposure, or GI distress (nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea) from ingesting contaminated water. The symptoms tended to be mild and self-limiting."
It urged that anyone with continuing symptoms be evaluated for other medical conditions and noted that viral gastroenteritis, influenza, the common cold and other infections are all common at this time of year.
A spokeswoman for West Virginia American Water Co. said the company was continuing to flush the system to get rid of pockets of licorice smell that remain. "For us, it's not over until we resolve the odor issue," said Maureen Duffy.
Dr. Tanja Popovic, the director of the CDC's National Center for Environmental Health, said Feb. 5 that repeated testing had shown the water to be acceptable for all uses.
"What I can say is that with all the scientific evidence that we have, with everything that numerous people have worked on so far, I can say that you can use your water however you like," Popovic said. "You can drink it; you can bathe in it; you can use it how you like."
Tomblin said that tests had shown levels of less than 10 parts per billion or too low to detect and that he and his staff had been drinking the water "for the last couple of weeks." But when asked whether he could declare it "100 percent safe," he said, "No."
"The only thing that we can rely upon is what the experts tell us, and, you know, for all the tests done, that's who we've got to depend upon," Tomblin said.
A federal grand jury is investigating the spill at Freedom Industries, sources familiar with the grand jury's activities have told CNN.