State of Emergency in WV Chemical Spill

Friday, January 10, 2014 @ 10:01 AM gHale

A chemical spill from Freedom Industries hit a river in Charleston, WV, and a nearby water treatment plant and resulted in Governor Earl Ray Tomblin declaring a state of emergency Thursday.

In addition, a federal disaster declaration has been issued for residents in nine West Virginia counties not to bathe, brush their teeth or wash their clothes.

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Customers of West Virginia American Water in the affected areas also got the order from Tomblin on Thursday night: Do not drink, bathe, cook or wash clothes with tap water.

The chemical, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, a foaming agent used in the coal preparation process, leaked from a tank at Freedom Industries, overran a containment area and went into the Elk River earlier Thursday.

Officials say the orders, which the water company also delivered to residents via automated telephone messages, were a precaution, as they are still not sure exactly what hazard the spill posed to residents. It also was not immediately clear how much of the chemical spilled into the river and at what concentration.

“I don’t know if the water is not safe,” said water company president Jeff McIntyre. “Until we get out and flush the actual system and do more testing, we can’t say how long this (advisory) will last at this time.”

McIntyre said 4-methylcyclohexane methanol isn’t lethal in its strongest form. Freedom Industries officials were unavailable for comment.

According to a fact sheet from Fisher Scientific, the chemical is harmful if swallowed and causes eye and skin irritation and could be harmful if inhaled.

The emergency declaration involves customers in all or parts of the counties of Kanawha, Boone, Cabell, Clay, Jackson, Lincoln, Logan, Putnam and Roane. In the capital city of Charleston, a smell similar to licorice or cough syrup was evident in the air outdoors and in areas where it had already reached the water supply, according to a report by The Associated Press.

The West Virginia National Guard will gather at an air base at Charleston’s Yeager Airport Friday to distribute bottled drinking water to emergency services agencies in the nine counties, said Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety spokesman Lawrence Messina.

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