By Associated Press - Friday, January 24, 2014

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The head of the Utility Workers Union of America is raising concerns that West Virginia American Water Co.’s leaky pipes may have allowed contaminated water from the Elk River chemical spill to seep into the ground.

Following the Jan. 9 spill that polluted the water supply for 300,000 people, D. Michael Langford wrote to the state Public Service Commission to point out West Virginia American’s high rate of “unaccounted for water.”

According to West Virginia American’s most recent annual report on file with regulators, it could not account for more than 28 percent of the water it pumped in 2012.

Media outlets report that that number is far above the 15 percent that’s considered acceptable.

Unaccounted-for water is water that leaves a treatment plant, but never passes through a customer’s meter, meaning it is never sold. It disappears somewhere in a maze of leaky pipes.

“Our immediate concern,” Langford wrote in Thursday’s letter, “is that a significant amount of the contaminated water pumped through the system will have leaked into the ground. The UWUA does not know whether this presents a public health concern, but believes that the matter warrants investigation.”

State officials and the water company have tested water coming into and leaving the affected treatment plant and fire hydrants all across the 1,700-mile pipeline. But the company says it isn’t testing groundwater.

“The water that is being flushed or lost underground through leaks is such a minimal level, if it had any trace amounts of chemical in it … it does,” Jordan said, citing a statement from the state Department of Environmental Protection.

West Virginia American Water President Jeff McIntyre noted that the union does not represent the water company’s Charleston workers and that the union is a “frequent intervener” in proceedings of the commission to advance its own concerns.

Langford’s letter says that Local 537, whose members work in Huntington, has for several years testified about the need for infrastructure upgrades and increased staffing to maintain aging facilities.

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