Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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January 19, 2014

Water crisis refugees find sanctuary in Bluefield

BLUEFIELD — Rich Katz, a Bluefield native, has a litigation consulting firm in Charleston, but he and his family aren’t staying at their home in the Fort Hill area of Charleston this weekend.

“We’re refugees, but people living less than a two-hour drive from Charleston don’t even know it,” he said.

Katz visited the Greater Bluefield Community Center on Saturday to work out and a person he talked with told him that he wasn’t even aware that the problem still existed.

“He said that he has seen the maps, and it looked to him like the water was back on,” Katz said. “We’re right in the middle of it. It’s on the front burner of everything we do. It’s a god-awful mess. We got a little national exposure, but when people look at a map, they think the worst is over.

“It’s horrendous,” he said. “They lifted the ban in places, saying that the readings are 1 parts-per-million, but when people open up the faucets in their homes, the fumes are horrible. I’ve had low-grade nausea and my wife (Jodi Katz) has had headaches ever since it started. We haven’t gone to the hospital, but that’s what we’ve been through since this started.

“Once the ban has been lifted in some of these communities, people have been getting in the shower and coming out with chemical burns and rashes,” Katz said. “People have flushed their home water lines out three or four times in zones where the water is supposed to be safe and it still smells like licorice. They still don’t even know enough about this chemical to say when it’s safe for pregnant women. Nobody’s drinking the stuff.”

Katz, 48, is the son of David and Susan Katz. He grew up in Bluefield and graduated from Bluefield High School in 1983, and moved to Charleston in 1995. He and his wife Jodi, their daughter, Ava and their dog, Cozmo, are staying with Rich’s aunt and uncle, Doris Sue and Norris Kantor.

“It’s disconcerting to me that we can be less than two hours away and nobody knows what we’ve been going through,” Katz said. “The further you get away from Charleston, the less anybody knows about what’s happening. This is going to go on for decades.

“The scope of this disaster is incredible,” Katz said. “It’s not just an annoyance or an inconvenience. Who knows how long the health impact will be on our family. When you’re living through it, it’s a concern every day.”

Katz said that in his law practice, he works on cases where families who were living in the coalfields and brought civil complaints against coal companies, saying that mining coal had fouled their wells and ruined their water supply.

“I think I’m beginning to better understand what those folks were going through,” Katz said.

On Saturday afternoon, the internal affairs manager of West Virginia American Water announced that the team sampling the water in the Buffalo, Frazier’s Bottom and Pliny area indicated “no detect” levels in parts per million. As a result the “do not drink” advisory was lifted in that area.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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