West Virginia chemical spill triggers tap water ban

Updated: 2014-01-11 13:13


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West Virginia chemical spill triggers tap water ban

Local residents pick up drinking water at the state capitol building in Charleston, West Virginia January 10, 2014. [Photo/Agencies]

CHARLESTON, W. Va. - Up to 300,000 West Virginia residents are spending a second night unable to bathe, shower or drink tap water Friday after a chemical spill into the Elk River called the water's safety into question.

"We don't know that the water's not safe, but I can't say it is safe," Jeff McIntyre, president of West Virginia American Water Co, told a news conference. The company runs the state's largest water treatment plant.

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency for nine counties, and President Barack Obama issued an emergency declaration on Friday. The spill forced the closure of schools and businesses in Charleston, the state's capital and largest city.

Tests were being done on the water, McIntyre said, but he could not say when it would be declared safe for normal use.

The spill of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, or Crude MCHM, a chemical used in the coal industry, occurred on Thursday on the Elk River in Charleston, upriver from the plant run by West Virginia American Water.

The spill came from a tank belonging to Freedom Industries, a Charleston company that produces specialty chemicals for the mining, steel and cement industries.

Water carrying this chemical has an odor like licorice or anise, McIntyre said. While the chemical is not highly lethal, the level that could be considered safe has yet to be quantified, he said.

A water company spokeswoman said the chemical could be harmful if swallowed and could cause skin and eye irritation.

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