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Kanawha Health Dept. Plans Release of Survey Results

Ashton Marra
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

About a third of Kanawha County residents surveyed say a member of their household experienced an illness they believe was connected to the January 9 chemical spill in Charleston.

That’s according to data collected through a survey in early April by the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department in partnership with the University of Charleston.

The county health department started with a database of about 6,000 cell and land lines. Then, surveyors, trained on how to conduct the 72 question survey, began making calls.

Dr. Rahul Gupta, chief health officer of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, said at a press conference Thursday they didn’t call all 6,000 people. The number they did call, they’re still trying to determine, but he said he does know around 500 residents chose to complete the survey.

Credit Kanawha-Charleston Heath Department
Kanawha-Charleston Health Department
This graph shows the percentage of the 500-some respondents who reported a member of their household experienced an illness after the Freedom Industries chemical spill that the believe was related to the contaminated water. About a third, 32 percent, responded yes.

“These studies are not meant to prove cause and effect,” Gupta said. “What these studies are meant to do is find the patterns of particular elements we’re looking at in our community and then form the foundation for other researchers to build on that body of evidence.”

The survey asked respondents to give local, state and federal agencies, as well as West Virginia American Water, an A through F grading for their trustworthiness in the days following the spill. The water company faired the worst with almost 40 percent of respondents giving them an F grading.

 “This is a new type of study. We believe it has not been done before,” said Dr. David Latif, professor and chair of the Department of Pharmaceutical and Administrative Services at the University of Charleston.

“It’s trying to tap into the perceptions of the residents of Kanawha County on how they feel they were effected from a communication standpoint, from an economic impact and from a psycho-social standpoint.”

Credit Kanawha-Charleston Health Department
Kanawha-Charleston Health Department
This graph shows the percentage of respondents who gave each agency an F rating on trustworthiness following the Freedom Industries chemical spill in Charleston.

Latif also stressed the survey is scientific. Their methods have been proven by a review board at the University of Charleston.

The survey only includes residents of Kanawha County because Gutpa said the department was not eligible for outside grant assistance to expand.

The University of Charleston provided some funding for the program as well as local physicians and epidemiologists.

Final results from a full data analysis will be presented Monday evening at 5p.m. at the University of Charleston. To RSVP to the presentation, call (304) 348-6494 or visit the county health department’s website.

Specialists from the Harvard School of Public Health will also present their findings from a separate survey conducted after the spill.

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