300,000 Without Water as Danger of Chemical Leaked into WV’s Elk River Still Unknown
A chemical spill in southern West Virginia has turned off the tap for nearly 300,000 residents in 9 counties near Charleston. Freedom Industries, a producer of specialty chemicals for the mining, steel and cement industries, was responsible for the leak that dumped an unknown amount of a harmful mining chemical into the Elk River.
Residents reported a licorice smell coming from their taps on Thursday as early as 11:00 am and alerted authorities. Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, concerned about the impact of the spill, ordered the impacted area to not to use their water for drinking, bathing or even washing their clothes in mid-afternoon.
“Our efforts will continue until we have a resolution,” the governor said in a statement. “Our main focus continues to center around our hospitals, nursing homes and those most vulnerable.”
Within minutes of the drinking ban announcement, stores emptied out of bottled water as concerned residents tried to stock-up.
“I tried to get a little water last night and our Kroger was cleaned out less than 10 min after the official announcement,” resident Mary Nichols told Issue Hawk.
The Federal Government, which declared the area a federal disaster area on Friday, has also deployed National Guard troops to help bring water to the impacted region and West Virginians from other areas of the states pitched in with their own water drives.
Still, residents worry about a potential long term water crisis could impact the area, especially, seniors, those with small children and the poor.
“They have trucks distributing free water,” Nichols said stressing that it is still not possible to haul enough to bathe or do laundry. “But what happens when all the clothes are dirty and all the people are dirty?”
The lack of water has also shuttered local restaurants, businesses and schools, threatening an economic crisis when shops lose revenue and hourly workers lose pay.
“This is devastating to local commerce,” Charleston Mayor Danny Jones stressed.“The folks out there would like an end to this. We would like a resolution soon.”
Most troubling, it is still unknown exactly how toxic this chemical is for both humans and the river it contaminated and when the water disaster may be end.
“I don’t know if the water is not safe,” water company president Jeff McIntyre said during a press conference on Friday. “Until we get out and flush the actual system and do more testing, we can’t say how long this will last at this time.”
Dale Petry, Director of Kanawha County Emergency Management also said that after he received complaints he investigated the site of the leak during the morning hours but was “told at that time there was no problem with it, because they felt the chemical actually floated on water.” According to Petry, this information, which may have delayed the drinking ban from being announced, may now not be correct.
“We obviously drank the water that was contaminated,” local pastor and resident Nichols said, concerned about possible long-term effects of the chemical in her community. She further pointed out that even the Material Safety Data Sheet ,which lists the dangers of industrial chemicals like the one dumped in the Elk River, “basically says, we don’t know what happens if you drink or touch this.”
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