300,000 still without water due to West Virginia chemical spill
The clean water crisis in West Virginia entered its third day as frustrated residents in 9 counties deal with the fallout from a serious chemical spill into the areas water supply.
Most visitors have cleared out of Charleston while locals are either staying home or driving out of the area to find somewhere they can get a hot meal or a shower. Meanwhile, business owners with empty dining rooms and quiet aisles of merchandise around West Virginia's capital were left to wonder how much of an economic hit they'll take from the chemical spill.
The emergency began Thursday following complaints to West Virginia American Water about a licorice-type odor in the tap water. The source: the chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, which had leaked out of a 40,000-gallon tank at a Freedom Industries facility along the Elk River.
It could take days for clean tap water to flow again. First, water sample test results must consistently show that the chemical's presence in the public water system is at or below 1 parts per million, the level recommended by federal agencies, West Virginia American Water President Jeff McIntyre said Saturday at a news conference.
Officials said that water samples were "trending in that direction," and most were below that level, but flushing would not begin until readings were under the 1 part per million level for a 24-hour period. More than 100 more samples were due to be tested overnight.
State officials said Saturday they believe about 7,500 gallons leaked from the Freedom Industries plant in Charleston. Some of the chemical, a foaming agent used in coal processing, was contained before flowing into the Elk River; it's not clear exactly how much entered the water supply.
Meanwhile, 800,000 liters of fresh water were scheduled to be shipped into the affected area Saturday and Sunday night.
Residents in nine counties were told to not drink, bathe in, or wash their dishes or clothes with their water, which could only be used for flushing toilets. The order applies to about 300,000 people.
Virtually every restaurant was closed Saturday, unable to use water to prepare food, wash dishes or clean employees' hands. Meanwhile, hotels had emptied and foot traffic was down at many retail stores.
I don't know whether I'd drink the water even at 1 part per million. That MCMH is all over the place where I live. Streator was a coal mining town until about 50 years ago. My house sits on an abandoned mine shaft and while there haven't been any boil alerts since I moved here 6 years ago, my neighbors inform me that it's happened before.
The crisis may ease in the next few days as it appears that natural cleansing processes are diluting the chemical in the water. No doubt, the restoration of clean water can't come soon enough for residents.