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Dental practice curtailed in chemical spill area

WVDA updates affected dental facilities

Charleston, W.Va.—A chemical spill "essentially shut down over 180 dental offices" in a nine-county area serviced by the West Virginia American Water Company, said Richard Stevens, executive director of the West Virginia Dental Association.

Some dental offices had their own self-contained water systems using distilled water and were able to provide services without using public water, he said.

The leak into the Elk River of a little-known chemical used to clean coal that began the morning of Jan. 9 infiltrated the public water system and prompted state authorities to issue a DO NOT USE water advisory to individuals and businesses in the water company's service area.

"In response to inquiries by dentists…WVDA has conferred with the Kanawha County Health Department today regarding operation of dental offices affected by the chemical leak into the WV American Water Company's water system," Mr. Stevens said Jan. 11 in the first of several e-news communications with West Virginia dentists.

"Although the Health Department has no authority over dental offices, officials do not recommend dentists opening offices until the Water Company has flushed all of its supply lines," said Mr. Stevens' e-news message. "Individuals and businesses will then be instructed how to flush their water lines, hot water heaters and storage units before beginning normal use. The president of WV American Water Company said flushing lines before the company flushes all of its supply lines is of no benefit to homes or businesses."

"Relief from contaminated water in sight for dentists: flushing by dental offices begins after company flush," Mr. Stevens said in a Jan. 13 e-news update offering instructions on how to rid water lines and hot water tanks of contaminated water and when to begin. "The first region to be flushed is the east end of Charleston where about 50 dental offices are located along with four hospitals."

"This was an unprecedented situation," said Mr. Stevens, "born and raised in West Virginia" and WVDA executive director since April 1974. "Preparedness is the best way of describing what dentists should be alerted to," he told the ADA News in a telephone interview. "If there are systems, such as those with distilled, fresh, clean water, dentists could provide emergency services."

Mr. Stevens said he had to move the association's 2014 semi-annual session from Charleston to a resort 90 miles north of the city because the host hotel needed three days to flush its system. Asked about the agenda, which includes a session on risk management, he laughed and said, "I anticipated that."