By Ann Moore
CHARLESTON, W.Va. Jan 12 Restaurants and shops
began reopening on Sunday in parts of West Virginia where the
water supply was poisoned by a chemical spill, although up to
300,000 people spent a fourth day unable to use tap water for
anything besides flushing toilets.
State government officials, the utility company West
Virginia American Water and the National Guard continued
to test the water supply after as much as 7,500 gallons (28,000
liters) of an industrial chemical leaked into the Elk River on
It could still be several days before people in nine
counties and Charleston, the state capital and largest city, can
once again use the water from their faucets for drinking,
cooking and bathing.
Earl Ray Tomblin, the governor of West Virginia, and other
officials said at a press conference on Sunday that efforts to
flush the chemical from the water supply were showing signs of
progress, and that most water samples were found to be within
safety limits for a second day.
But they did not specify when the drinking water ban might
be lifted, instead saying they were working to create a website
where residents will be able to check to see when the
restriction is lifted in their area.
"Our team has been diligently testing samples from
throughout the affected area, and the numbers look good,"
Tomblin said. "I believe we're at a point where we see light at
the end of the tunnel."
A dozen restaurants in Charleston had been allowed to reopen
by Sunday afternoon by the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department
after assuring officials that they have secured a source of
"It feels very expensive," said Keeley Steele, who bought
hundreds of bottles of water in order to reopen her comfort-food
restaurant, the Bluegrass Kitchen, in Charleston on Sunday.
"This is all coming at such a huge cost."
Hotels were allowed to continue operating as long as they
steer clear of using tap water, although several hotel owners
said they were only honoring existing reservations to reduce the
expense of shipping out linens for cleaning.
Officials have so far declined to estimate the economic cost
of the spill.
Frustrations, however, continue to mount, with West
Virginians lamenting the toll the outage has taken on their
health and personal hygiene.
"It feels like we've all been living on junk food these past
couple days," Josephine Ritter, a 40-year-old hairstylist, said
outside a recently reopened 7-Eleven convenience store in
Charleston. "You can't cook or clean or anything. It's just
bottled water and potato chips every day."
The emergency began last week after a spillage from a tank
belonging to Freedom Industries, a Charleston company that makes
chemicals for the mining, steel and cement industries,
The spill happened about a mile (1.6 kilometers) upriver
from a West Virginia American Water treatment plant. President
Barack Obama declared it an emergency, and the Federal Emergency
Management Agency has sent dozens of tractor trailers loaded
with clean water.
Water tainted by the spilled 4-methylcyclohexane methanol,
or Crude MCHM, smells faintly of licorice. Contact with the
water can cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness, diarrhea, rashes
and reddened skin. Around 70 people had visited emergency rooms
with these symptoms by Sunday, said Karen Bowling, Cabinet
Secretary of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human
Some 1,045 people have called the West Virginia Poison
Center since the spill to say they or someone in their household
had been exposed, she said.
The "vast majority" of those people reported symptoms of
some kind, said Elizabeth Scharman, the poison center's
director. While there is little data on the chemical's effect on
humans, she said most symptoms were easily treated and that
rashes and feelings of nausea would soon fade.
"It's not a highly toxic chemical, it's an irritant
chemical," she said, adding that less than 10 people had had to
be admitted to a hospital. More than 60 people had also called
to say their livestock or pets had been exposed.
Meanwhile, some West Virginians are anticipating a
disheveled start to the new work week.
"I'm not looking forward to going back to work on Monday
without a shave or shower," said Clark Mills, a 51-year-old
contractor in Charleston. He has sent his family to stay with
relatives in an unaffected part of the state while he waits out
"I have a 6-month-old baby," he said. "We can't live like