State government officials, the utility company West Virginia
American Water and the National Guard continued to test the water
supply after as much as 7,500 gallons (28,000 liters) of an
industrial chemical leaked into the Elk River on Thursday.
It could still be several days before people in nine counties and
Charleston, the state capital and largest city, can once again use
the water from their faucets for drinking, cooking and bathing.
Earl Ray Tomblin, the governor of West Virginia, and other officials
said at a press conference on Sunday that efforts to flush the
chemical from the water supply were showing signs of progress, and
that most water samples were found to be within safety limits for a
But they did not specify when the drinking water ban might be
lifted, instead saying they were working to create a website where
residents will be able to check to see when the restriction is
lifted in their area.
"Our team has been diligently testing samples from throughout the
affected area, and the numbers look good," Tomblin said. "I believe
we're at a point where we see light at the end of the tunnel."
A dozen restaurants in Charleston had been allowed to reopen by
Sunday afternoon by the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department after
assuring officials that they have secured a source of potable water.
"It feels very expensive," said Keeley Steele, who bought hundreds
of bottles of water in order to reopen her comfort-food restaurant,
the Bluegrass Kitchen, in Charleston on Sunday. "This is all coming
at such a huge cost."
Hotels were allowed to continue operating as long as they steer
clear of using tap water, although several hotel owners said they
were only honoring existing reservations to reduce the expense of
shipping out linens for cleaning.
Officials have so far declined to estimate the economic cost of the
Frustrations, however, continue to mount, with West Virginians
lamenting the toll the outage has taken on their health and personal
"It feels like we've all been living on junk food these past couple
days," Josephine Ritter, a 40-year-old hairstylist, said outside a
recently reopened 7-Eleven convenience store in Charleston. "You
can't cook or clean or anything. It's just bottled water and potato
chips every day."
The emergency began last week after a spillage from a tank belonging
to Freedom Industries, a Charleston company that makes chemicals for
the mining, steel and cement industries, authorities said.
[to top of second column]
The spill happened about a mile upriver from a West Virginia
American Water treatment plant. President Barack Obama declared it
an emergency, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency has sent
dozens of tractor trailers loaded with clean water.
Water tainted by the spilled 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, or Crude
MCHM, smells faintly of licorice. Contact with the water can cause
nausea, vomiting, dizziness, diarrhea, rashes and reddened skin.
Around 70 people had visited emergency rooms with these symptoms by
Sunday, said Karen Bowling, Cabinet Secretary of the West Virginia
Department of Health and Human Resources.
Some 1,045 people have called the West Virginia Poison Center since
the spill to say they or someone in their household had been
exposed, she said.
The "vast majority" of those people reported symptoms of some kind,
said Elizabeth Scharman, the poison center's director. While there
is little data on the chemical's effect on humans, she said most
symptoms were easily treated and that rashes and feelings of nausea
would soon fade.
"It's not a highly toxic chemical, it's an irritant chemical," she
said, adding that less than 10 people had had to be admitted to a
hospital. More than 60 people had also called to say their livestock
or pets had been exposed.
Meanwhile, some West Virginians are anticipating a disheveled start
to the new work week.
"I'm not looking forward to going back to work on Monday without a
shave or shower," said Clark Mills, a 51-year-old contractor in
Charleston. He has sent his family to stay with relatives in an
unaffected part of the state while he waits out the problem.
"I have a 6-month-old baby," he said. "We can't live like this."
(Reporting by Ann Moore and Jonathan Kaminsky;
writing by Jonathan
Allen; editing by Barbara Goldberg and Eric Walsh)
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