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Va. National Guard Assisting with Testing Water in W.Va.

Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs

Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs

Jan. 20, 2014

Members of the Virginia National Guard Soldiers and Airmen are using their training to help people in West Virginia.

They're using these skills they have learned for sampling and identifying unknown chemical or biological agents to help officials evaluate the quality of water after a chemical spill left more than 300,000 residents without drinking water.

Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Teams (WMD-CST) from five different states have been working in the Charleston area since Jan. 9th, assisting with the collection, data entry and transport of water samples for evaluation.

Fourteen Soldiers and Airmen from the Virginia National Guard's Fort Pickett-based 34th Civil Support Team arrived Jan. 18th to help with the ongoing water sampling operation.

"The impact of the National Guard has been huge," said Jeff McIntyre, president of West Virginia American Water. He said the Guard has played a key role in helping with a water sampling effort that spans more than 3,000 square miles.

West Virginia officials lifted water restrictions that began Jan. 9th, but sampling continues to evaluate the water supply. Officials say they will continue testing until the system has been sampled and tested at 1/100 parts per million (10 parts per billion), a level well below the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommended threshold for public health and considered to be the level of non-detection.

For the sampling operations, National Guard Soldiers and Airmen pair up with employees of West Virginia American Water, travel to a designated survey point, collect a water sample, label it, then return it to a collection point where the key data is captured and then the sample is sent off for evaluation.

According to National Guard Bureau, there are 57 WMD-CSTs located in each state, U.S. territory and Washington D.C. with two each in California, Florida and New York. The teams are on stand-by 24 hours a day, seven days a week and can deploy an advance team within 90 minutes of notification. The main body deploys within three hours.

"I am very pleased with how quickly we were able to alert, marshal and deploy safely into West Virginia," Maj. Casey Cox, commander of the 34th CST said. He added that their experience in West Virginia is allowing them to exercise their sampling skills and will make them more effective. "What we are doing here is allowing us to hone our skills for future missions."

More than 500 members of the West Virginia National Guard have been on duty assisting with water testing as well as distribution of bottled water to residents in support of the state's multi-agency response to the situation.

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