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By Ann Moore
CHARLESTON, W.Va. Jan 11 More than 300,000
residents in West Virginia spent a third day with no safe
drinking water because of a chemical spill and they may not be
able to shower or drink from the tap for days to come, an
official said on Saturday.
Governor Earl Ray Tomblin said there had been progress in
the last 51 hours, and particularly on Saturday, but officials
could not say when the ban might be lifted for the nine counties
and the state capital of Charleston, the state's largest city.
As much as 5,000 gallons (18,927 liters) of industrial chemical
leaked into the Elk River on Thursday.
"Right now, no water is safe," said Jeff McIntyre, president
of West Virginia American Water Co. It could be days before
water quality meets federally mandated quality standards, he
The spill of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, or Crude MCHM,
came from a tank belonging to Freedom Industries, a Charleston
company that produces specialty chemicals for the mining, steel
and cement industries, authorities said.
Mike Dorsey with the state's Environmental Protection
Department said crews were using shovels, excavators, barges,
vacuum trucks and other equipment to contain the spill.
"Every possible method of remediation for that kind of spill
is being employed out there right now," Dorsey said.
The amount of MCHM in the water was decreasing by late
Saturday, but is not yet consistently low enough for people to
safely use the water, said Lieutenant Colonel Greg Grant from
the West Virginia National Guard.
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, said McIntyre of West Virginia American Water Co.
Officials have said chemical levels in the water were
declining, but the spill forced schools and businesses to close
in Charleston and surrounding communities.
President Barack Obama issued an emergency declaration and
the Federal Emergency Management Agency sent 75 tractor trailers
filled with bottled water to distribute, with National Guard
assistance, to the more than 300,000 people unable to use their
FEMA said it had by Saturday sent about 1 million liters of
water to the area and more water was to be delivered on Saturday
night and Sunday to supplement what is available in the private
sector, officials said.
FIVE ADMITTED TO HOSPITALS
So far, 73 had gone to area emergency rooms and five had
been admitted for observation, said Secretary Karen Bowling of
the state Department of Health and Human Resources.
Their symptoms included nausea, vomiting, dizziness,
diarrhea, rashes and reddened skin, officials said.
Water carrying the industrial chemical has an odor like
licorice or anise.
The contamination has forced area restaurants to close, but
officials are working on a plan to allow some eateries to reopen
if they can prove they have a source of safe water, said Dr.
Rahul Gupta, the health officer at the Kanawha-Charleston Health
"We'll review those plans, and after we verify, we'll reopen
businesses on a case-by-case basis," Gupta said.
For some residents, enduring another day without access to
running water, the wait was too long.
Russell Anderson, who lives down the street from the spill,
said he spent his Saturday stocking up on bottled water supplies
at a Rite Aid drugstore.
"It's been a real pain," he said. "I just took a shower
yesterday. I'm fighting a cold right now and I just couldn't go
without, so I took my chances."
Local officials helping out with distribution of bottled
water said they have had a hard time keeping up with demand.
"Really the biggest challenge has been running out and
having to wait 10 to 15 minutes before we can get some more,"
said Kanawha County Sheriff Deputy Jed Walls.
(Additional reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Writing by Victoria
Cavaliere; Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Lisa Shumaker)