Residents of nine West Virginia counties have been warned not to drink or even touch tap water after a chemical spill.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency Thursday in Boone, Cabell, Clay, Jackson, Kanawha, Lincoln, Logan, Putnam and Roane counties after the West Virginia American Water Company announced that its water supply had become contaminated.
WSAZ-TV reported that 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, which is used in the froth flotation process of coal washing and preparation, had spilled just upstream from the intake of the Kanawha Valley water treatment plant in Charleston — the largest in West Virginia.
A water company spokeswoman said the spill originated with Freedom Industries, a Charleston company that produces chemicals for the mining, steel and cement industries.
Up to 5,000 gallons of the chemical may have been spilled, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The advisory affects 100,000 homes and businesses – or up to 300,000 people.
The tap water ban has shut down schools, bars and restaurants, and residents have stripped store shelves of bottled water, paper cups and disposable dishware.
Residents have been warned not to bathe or cook with the water because boiling will not remove the poisonous chemical.
Symptoms of exposure to the chemical include: severe burning in throat, severe eye irritation, non-stop vomiting, trouble breathing or severe skin irritation such as skin blistering.
The water is safe for use only to extinguish fires or flush toilets, authorities said.
Officials said the water would be safe to touch or drink after it’s been diluted further in the Kanawha River, which is a tributary to the Ohio River, and into the ground.
The water treatment plant will also be flushed extensively, authorities said.
But they weren’t sure exactly how long that would take.
Watch this video report posted online by WSAZ-TV: