West Virginia coal mining has made it deadly for state’s residents, again.
The White House has declared nine counties inWest Virginia a disaster area following the discovery of a leaking storage tank that appears to have contaminated drinking water. Officials have been telling the residents of the nine county area not to wash their clothes, brush their teeth or bathe.
West Virginia Gov. Earl Tomblin had earlier declared emergency status after the leakage and spill from Freedom Industries got contaminated the Elk River and a water treatment plant.
In declaring the emergency Tomblin advised citizens living and working in the affected areas not to use tap water.
“Right now, our priorities are our hospitals, nursing homes and schools,” he said.
The spilled chemical is a foaming agent used in coal mining. The contaminant overran a containment area and flooded into the river which serves as the main water supply 200,000 to 300,000 West Virginia residents.
As word of the contaminated drinking water spread, shock waves were felt thorough out the rural region. Emergency rooms were overcome with people wanting to speak to medical providers and Walmart reported selling out of bottled water in the counties affected.
State officials claim to be making an effort to provide alternative sources for drinking water. The State Health Department says it will be approximately six days before it can be determined if the water from the river will be safe to drink again. The department’s website says that it will take a minimum of 3 days to test the water and another 3 for the water system to clear. They are also advising residents that it could take longer if it’s a serious contamination issue.
Tomblin’s office says it has been working with the West Virginia National Guard and Office of Emergency Services in an effort to provide supplies and [potable] water through the county emergency services offices as quickly as possible.
One man who was visiting in the Charleston, West Virginia area, with his family, reportedly wasn’t told by his hotel about the water issue until 10pm, a full 7 hours after the leak was first detected. He drove around the city for three hours looking for drinking water for his wife and two sons and ended up paying $80 for 12 bottles of water.
The leak originated in a 48,000 gallon storage vessel at Freedom Industries approximately one mile upriver from the West Virginia American Water Co. Officials at Freedom Industries don’t know how much of the chemical leaked and restated that the chemical is not toxic.
The chemical, 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol, is used as one of the last steps in preparing coal for shipment. An online review of its Material Safety Data Sheet, documents provided to emergency workers for dealing with toxic chemicals, says there could be eye or skin irritation if a person comes into contact with it. The MSDS also says that nausea, vomiting, liver and kidney damage have been found to be potential results of exposure to the chemical.
However, emergency administration officials in West Virginia are claiming that the chemical has been diluted in the river and therefore, any harm from contact is minimal. They also claimed that the do-not-drink advisory was issued just as a precaution.
West Virginia government and coal company officials are not sure when the water pipes will be cleared and the water safe to drink. There’s a great deal of plumbing in the nine-county area.
“You’ve got 60 miles of this system and it’s full of this water,” one official said. “And people aren’t using the water.”
At this point, no one knows what will happen next as a West Virginia chemical plant Leaks Leaving 300K Without Water.