West Virginia Tap Water Remains Unsafe


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A chemical spill with a strange, licorice-like smell has led to a massive water shortage in parts of West Virginia. The spill came from a tank belonging to Freedom Industries, a company that produces specialty chemicals for the mining, steel and cement industries.

The spill happened Thursday, when as much as 5,000 gallons of a chemical called 4-methylcyclohexane methanol or Crude MCHM overran the containment area. It gushed into the Elk River and a nearby water treatment plant.

The Charleston Gazette reported that it was the state Department of Environmental Protection's air-quality officials that discovered that a leak had occurred.

On Friday, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency for nine counties: Kanawha, Putnam, Jackson, Clay, Lincoln, Logan, Roane ,Boone, and parts of Cabell County. The affected area also includes the state capital of Charleston, the state's largest city.

In a press conference, he urged water customers in the affected counties to stop using water for everything but flushing toilets and fighting fires.

"Do not drink it. Do not cook with it. Do not wash clothes in it. Do not take a bath in it. Please do not use any tap water if you're a customer of West Virginia American Water." Tomblin extended this warning to hospitals, restaurants, and other local businesses.

the spill prompted President Obama to issue a state of emergency for the state within the same time period as the West Virginia governor, granting the state access to federal help in dealing with the massive chemical spill and its effects on local water supplies.

The situation remains tense for West Virginia citizens. Within hours of the news spreading regarding the tap water situation, many stores in the region had sold out of bottled water. It reached the point where the sheriff's office in Kanawha county reported 911 calls received due to fights breaking out over the remaining bottles.

Jeff McIntyre, president of West Virginia American Water Co, told reporters on Saturday that his company has, “employees that have worked this (water) system that are extremely knowledgeable.” McIntyre stated that at present they were collecting samples and looking at flushing activity. The president of the water treatment plant emphasized that though they were hard at work to fix the problem, a solution to the situation would not be happening overnight.

“We are talking days before water quality meets federally mandated quality standards”

The 1 part per million requirement set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must be satisfied before any ban can be lifted. In the meantime, residents are forced to make due anyway they can.

Image via Wikimedia Commons