Don’t drink the water, West Virginia. Oh yes, and if it smells like licorice, that is even more reason to avoid the water, since that is the smell of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, (MCHM), a deadly chemical. On Thursday, West Virginia American Water Company held a press conference and announced that residents of nine counties in West Virginia were not to drink, bathe or cook with the current water supply. A chemical leak from the Freedom Industries plant in Elk, West Virginia, had made the water undrinkable and, for the most part, unusable. The plant is just outside of Charleston city limits.
It is not clear when the contamination became known to the water company. Four people have been hospitalized and many more showed up at various hospitals in the region with symptoms of nausea and vomiting. The condition of those hospitalized has still not been reported.
A team consisting of the National Guard, Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the West Virginia American Water Company, along with several experts, are working on a solution to West Virginia’s contaminated water supply.
The leak was from one of Freedom Industries’ three buildings. The chemicals seeped through a wall and into the Elk River. Not only are rural and industrial regions hit with this poisoned water, but also the 125,583 residents of Charleston; in all, an estimated 300,000 people are affected. These residents are not able to shower, make a healthy dinner or even wash their cars with the tainted water. Since the process may take up to a week or more, it will be quite a challenge to stay clean, fed and sane during the days ahead.
Don’t drink the water, West Virginia, until the team comes up with the right numbers and establish a safe level of potable water. This study of the chemical MCHM in the Elk River and water treatment plant started on Friday. Over 5,000 gallons of the chemical made its way into the river. Officials have reported that the levels have decreased, but not enough to pronounce it safe for drinking or even useful for bathing and cooking.
In an interview between resident Danny Jones and PBS newscaster Hari Sreenivasan, Jones said, “There is no answer as to when the citizens of this valley and all these nine counties can expect this nightmare to end. And it has devastated this area in a way which is indescribable. Everything is closing.”
The negative economic impact of the situation cannot be exaggerated. Restaurants, motels and hotels, fast food joints, the mall and car washes are just some of the commercial businesses to be affected by the continuing water turn off. Even the public schools are closed. About the only thing one can do with the current water condition is to flush a toilet.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has been bringing bottled water into the counties and have been distributing them to those in the affected area. Stores reported stocking up on up to 48 cases of bottled water and running out within 28 minutes. Firefighters have also been handing out bottled water to residents.
Don’t drink the water West Virginia. With a team of experts working on the solution, the water should be safe for all in short order.
By Lisa Pickering