West Virginia Chemical Spill Affects Drinking Water


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On Thursday, a tank at Freedom Industries leaked dangerous chemicals into the Elk River in Charleston, Virginia. Nine counties in West Virginia have been warned not to drink, bathe, cook or do laundry with their tap water because of the contamination hazards posed by this spill.

The chemical is a foaming agent that is used in processing coal, and approximately 100,000 water customers have been warned about the contamination.

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency for areas surrounding Elk River whose water has been affected.

The counties affected at this time, include: Kanawha, Cabell, Boone, Putnam, Lincoln, Logan, Clay, Roane and Jackson.

"The water has been contaminated," said Tomblin, who could not give a time reference on how long the hazard would last.

The chemical that spilled out of the tank, that was designed to go into a containment area to prevent contamination, ran out of that safety area and began polluting the river. The amount that went into the river is unknown at this time, however, West Virginia American Water Company has a treatment plant that services the affected customers.

Although it is not currently clear that the hazard spill is even an immediate threat, as there haven't been reports of sickness, officials are taking every precaution to warn those in the Elk River area, until they can determine how much of the chemical actually went into the river and how much affected the tap water.

"I don't know if the water is not safe," said water company president Jeff McIntyre.

Further, McIntyre said the warning was issued, "because we don't know. I don't have anything to indicate the water is not safe. It's an abundance of caution that we're taking this step. We don't do this lightly, tell our customers not to use the water."

Gov. Tomblin said he's asking the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to send ample supplies of bottled water.

Although, once the emergency reached customers, they immediately emptied shelves of bottled water, as well as paper supplies for eating and drinking.

McIntyre reported that the water is being tested to find out exactly how much of the chemical got into the tap water. And even though it is in a weaker concentration, it could still be detrimental.

"Until we get out and flush the actual system and do more testing, we can't say how long this (advisory) will last at this time," McIntyre said. Adding that when the advisory was first issued for five counties, that as many as 100,000 customers were affected. The company has 170,000 customers in 17 West Virginia counties, as well as in Ohio and Virginia.

McIntyre said It is also important to note that boiling the water won't remove the chemical, advising that water be used for "toilet flushing only" until they can determine the severity of the contamination.

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