Charleston, WV, United States (4E) – Some 300,000 residents of West Virginia are unable to drink and use tap water since Thursday except for flushing due to chemical contamination.
Schools, restaurants, businesses and the airport in the capital Charleston were also shut down as employees and customers cannot wash hands on sinks following the emergency order of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin not to use tap water contaminated with 4- methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM), a solvent used in processing coal.
People are lining up to get free water at fire stations or buy it from stores while the West Virginia Army National Guard is delivering millions of liters of water to the city as the West Virginia American Water Co. (WVAWC) continue flushing pipes and testing the amount of MCHM in its supply. There should be below one part per million of MCHM in water to be considered safe to drink and use for bathing, cooking and washing clothes.
More than 150 people complained of rashes, upset stomachs and other ailments at emergency rooms with a handful hospitalized but not in serious condition, the state Department of Health and Human Resources said. Exposure to MCHM can cause nausea, dizziness, vomiting and eye and skin irritation, authorities warned.
As much as 7,500 gallons of MCHM leaked into the Elk River, the state’s source of water supply, from a tank of Freedom Industries along the south bank of the Elk, according to Mike Dorsey, chief of emergency response for the state Department of Environmental Protection. One of the old tanks had a hole in the bottom where the chemical leaked and pooled in a containment area and seeped through a porous cinder-block retaining wall, down the bank and into the river, the Washington Post reported.
The leak was discovered Thursday after a resident complained of a powerful odor like black licorice. Freedom Industries removed the chemical at the site and announced it would flush the chemical out from the site and contaminated soil.