Governor Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency for nine
counties following the spill of 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol, a
chemical used in the coal industry.
The spill occurred on the Elk River in Charleston, West Virginia's
capital and largest city, just upriver from the eastern U.S. state's
largest water treatment plant.
Health officials advised residents to use tap water only for
flushing toilets and fighting fires, and ordered the closure of
schools and restaurants across a wide area.
"West Virginians in the affected service areas are urged not to use
tap water for drinking, cooking, washing or bathing," Gov. Tomblin
said in a statement. "Right now, our priorities are our hospitals,
nursing homes and schools."
Emergency workers were transporting water to distribution centers in
the affected counties, according to the Charleston Gazette.
Local media showed pictures of residents lining up at stores for
bottled water, and shelves emptied of their supplies.
At a Kroger supermarket in Kanawha City, a Charleston police officer
stood guard as shoppers stocked up on bottled water.
"People have been grabbing it like crazy," Kerstin Halstead told the
newspaper as she loaded two cases of water into her SUV. "Some
people were getting — well, they could have shared more."
Dr. Rahul Gupta, health officer for the Kanawha-Charleston and the
Putnam County Health Departments, ordered the closure of all
restaurants and schools receiving water from the West Virginia
American Water company.
Schools would be shut on Friday across many counties, including
Boone, Cabell, Clay, Jackson, Kanawha, Lincoln, Pocahontas and
Putnam, the West Virginia Department of Education said on its
Tomblin's spokeswoman, Amy Shuler Goodwin, said she did not know
when the ban would be lifted.
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The spill originated with Freedom Industries, a Charleston company,
according to Laura Jordan, external affairs manager for West
Virginia American Water.
It occurred above the intake of the Kanawha Valley water treatment
plant in Charleston, which serves 100,000 homes and businesses, or
250,000 to 300,000 people, Jordan said.
"It could be potentially harmful if swallowed and could potentially
cause skin and eye irritation," Jordan said.
The West Virginia Department of Environment Protection got a report
of a strange odor on Thursday morning and visited the Freedom
Industries site, where they found a leaking storage unit, Shuler
Jordan said the water company and state environmental officials were
conducting tests on the water.
The company is working with state and federal authorities to get
residents access to bottled water, and water distribution sites will
be announced through local media, Jordan said.
A representative for Freedom Industries did not respond to requests
The company says on its website it is a producer of specialty
chemicals for the mining, steel and cement industries.
(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski in Chicago and Eric M. Johnson in
Seattle; editing by Eric Walsh, John Stonestreet)
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