Tap water fix in West Virginia still days away

Updated: 2014-01-12 13:41


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Tap water fix in West Virginia still days away

Boats sit in the Elk River in front of the Freedom Industries plant in Charleston, West Virginia, Jan 11, 2014. Up to 300,000 West Virginia residents spent a second night unable to bathe, shower or drink tap water on Saturday after a chemical spill into the Elk River near the state capital of Charleston, although chemical levels were declining. [Photo/Agencies]

CHARLESTON, W. Va.- Tap water in Charleston, West Virginia, and nearby communities will remain unsafe in the coming days, an official said on Saturday as residents spent a third day unable to bathe, shower or drink from the faucet due to a chemical spill tainting the Elk River.

As much as 5,000 gallons (18,927 liters) of industrial chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, or Crude MCHM, leaked into the river on Thursday, state officials said.

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

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin on Friday declared a state of emergency for nine counties, with the affected area including Charleston, the state's largest city and its capital. President Barack Obama has issued an emergency declaration.

"Our teams are out and we have employees that have worked this (water) system that are extremely knowledgeable. (They are) out collecting samples and looking at flushing activities at this time," Jeff McIntyre, president of West Virginia American Water Co, told reporters on Saturday.

"But we are talking days" before water quality meets federally mandated quality standards, said McIntyre, whose company runs the state's largest water treatment plant.

A team of investigators from the US Chemical Safety Board is scheduled to arrive in West Virginia on Monday, the federal safety agency said on Saturday. On Friday, Senator Jay Rockefeller, who represents West Virginia, asked the board to investigate, saying he was "profoundly troubled" by the spill.

The regional ban on using tap water will be lifted one area at a time as officials work to meet the 1 part per million requirement set by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, McIntyre said.

Officials have said chemical levels in the water were declining, but the spill forced schools and businesses to close in Charleston and surrounding communities.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency sent 75 tractor trailers full of bottled water to distribute, with National Guard assistance, to the over 300,000 people unable to use their tap water.

"As of Saturday, FEMA has delivered approximately 1 million liters of water from its distribution centers in Cumberland and Frederick, Maryland, to the area for use by the state," it said. "FEMA will continue to deliver supplies to the state for distribution, as needed."

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