(Adds emergency water distribution, residents buying bottled
By Mary Wisniewski and Eric M. Johnson
Jan 10 A chemical spill along a West Virginia
river on Thursday triggered a tap water ban for up to 300,000
people, shutting down schools, bars and restaurants and forcing
residents to line up for bottled water at stores.
Governor Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency for
nine counties following the spill of 4-Methylcyclohexane
Methanol, a chemical used in the coal industry.
The spill occurred on the Elk River in Charleston, West
Virginia's capital and largest city, just upriver from the
eastern U.S. state's largest water treatment plant.
Health officials advised residents to use tap water only for
flushing toilets and fighting fires, and ordered the closure of
schools and restaurants across a wide area.
"West Virginians in the affected service areas are urged not
to use tap water for drinking, cooking, washing or bathing,"
Gov. Tomblin said in a statement. "Right now, our priorities are
our hospitals, nursing homes and schools."
Emergency workers were transporting water to distribution
centers in the affected counties, according to the Charleston
Local media showed pictures of residents lining up at stores
for bottled water, and shelves emptied of their supplies.
At a Kroger supermarket in Kanawha City, a Charleston police
officer stood guard as shoppers stocked up on bottled water.
"People have been grabbing it like crazy," Kerstin Halstead
told the newspaper as she loaded two cases of water into her
SUV. "Some people were getting - well, they could have shared
Dr. Rahul Gupta, health officer for the Kanawha-Charleston
and the Putnam County Health Departments, ordered the closure of
all restaurants and schools receiving water from the West
Virginia American Water company.
Schools would be shut on Friday across many counties,
including Boone, Cabell, Clay, Jackson, Kanawha, Lincoln,
Pocahontas and Putnam, the West Virginia Department of Education
said on its website.
Tomblin's spokeswoman, Amy Shuler Goodwin, said she did not
know when the ban would be lifted.
The spill originated with Freedom Industries, a Charleston
company, according to Laura Jordan, external affairs manager for
West Virginia American Water.
It occurred above the intake of the Kanawha Valley water
treatment plant in Charleston, which serves 100,000 homes and
businesses, or 250,000 to 300,000 people, Jordan said.
"It could be potentially harmful if swallowed and could
potentially cause skin and eye irritation," Jordan said.
The West Virginia Department of Environment Protection got a
report of a strange odor on Thursday morning and visited the
Freedom Industries site, where they found a leaking storage
unit, Shuler Goodwin said.
Jordan said the water company and state environmental
officials were conducting tests on the water.
The company is working with state and federal authorities to
get residents access to bottled water, and water distribution
sites will be announced through local media, Jordan said.
A representative for Freedom Industries did not respond to
requests for comment.
The company says on its website it is a producer of
specialty chemicals for the mining, steel and cement industries.
(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski in Chicago and Eric M. Johnson in
Seattle; Editing by Eric Walsh, John Stonestreet)