Public Water Source Shut Off
A CHEMICAL LEAK THAT HAS THE POTENTIAL to contaminate a public water supply has brought a federal disaster declaration to a 9-county region around Charleston, West Virginia.
The leak from a tank of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol at the Freedom Industries chemical plant along the Elk River may have gotten into the public water supply for the region, but how much has not yet been determined.
(The spill) may have contaminated tap water and prompted officials to order residents in nine counties not to bathe, brush their teeth or wash their clothes.
The declaration, made overnight, allows for direct federal assistance in dealing with the spill, Bill Hines of the Federal Emergency Management Agency said early Friday. It remained unclear how much of the chemical spilled into the river and at what concentration, or how long the advisory would last.
Customers of West Virginia American Water in the affected areas also got the order from (Governor Earl Ray) Tomblin on Thursday night: Do not drink, bathe, cook or wash clothes with tap water.
The chemical, a foaming agent used in the coal preparation process, leaked from a tank at Freedom Industries, overran a containment area and went into the river earlier Thursday.
Officials say the orders — which the water company also delivered to residents via automated telephone messages — were issued as a precaution, as they are still not sure exactly what hazard the spill posed to residents. It also was not immediately clear how much of the chemical spilled into the river and at what concentration.
“I don’t know if the water is not safe,” said water company president Jeff McIntyre. “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.”
The West Virginia National Guard planned to mobilize at an air base at Charleston’s Yeager Airport on Friday to distribute bottled drinking water to emergency services agencies in the nine counties, Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety spokesman Lawrence Messina told The Associated Press.
“They’re committing all necessary resources to help with this,” Messina said Thursday night. The drinking water will come from several different suppliers. After distribution, the various county agencies “will use their own game plans to distribute it, with hospitals and nursing homes getting priority,” he also said.
Over 300,000 people are directly affected and all restaurants and bars have shut down. Hotels have shut off their water to the rooms, but some have temporarily turned it back on long enough to flush toilets amidst strict advice to not bathe or shower.
A spokesperson with West Virginia American Water tells WSAZ.com at 8 a.m. the Corp of Engineers and Dupont will conduct tests at the same time to to see if each test gets the same results. The water company hopes this test will give a better look at the water standards.
WVAW has also been working with a chemist from DuPont and Laura Jordan says he’s found that the chemical is leaking at ground level. Jordan says there is a possibility this leak has been going on for sometime before it was discovered Thursday.
The water company also doesn’t know how much of the chemical got in the water. There is no way to treat the water. The company still doesn’t have a timetable for when the water will be safe to use. Jordan says this is isolated and the chemical shouldn’t move to other areas.
While none of the early reports say whether or not firefighters will continue to use hydrants for water supply, it can be expected that working fires will be fought with the water which may or may not be contaminated rather than let property burn down.
ABC News posted this video report:
This report will be updated if and when any appropriate information is released.
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