When the tap water started to flow again in parts of West Virginia’s Kanawha Valley on Monday, some of Dr. Elizabeth Brown's patients began to trickle into her office with some peculiar symptoms.
"I started seeing people in the afternoon who came in with skin rashes after trying to wash their hands, rashes all over their body after showering, irritated eyes, some nausea and fatigue, and that's just the tip of the iceberg," Brown told Joie Chen Wednesday on America Tonight.
On Thursday afternoon, America Tonight caught up with Brown after work. She was making a 25-minute drive just to take a shower in an area unaffected by last week’s chemical spill that disrupted local water service.
“I don’t think it’s safe to drink or bathe in,” she said. “I still maintain that that should be for everybody.”
Many of her patients Thursday reported nausea, vomiting and flulike symptoms after using the tap water that state officials and the local water utility insist is safe to use, she said.
“One guy told me as soon as he flushed, the [licorice] smell made him dizzy and lightheaded, then he blacked out,” she said. That man is a runner who takes no medications and is otherwise healthy, she said.
“My patients who are complaining are very young and healthy,” she said. “It’s not the old, infirm people who are complaining.”
Brown and her patients were among the 300,000 West Virginians who were without tap water for at least four days, after a licorice-scented chemical, later identified as 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM), leaked into a river just upstream from a major regional water processing plant.
“I think they’re scared,” Brown said of her patients' dispositions. “I think fear is the biggest thing I’m seeing.”