The federal government is in the early stages of launching an investigation into how some West Virginia water has been contaminated, leaving 300,000 people at risk. Since Thursday, schools and places of business have been closed in an attempt to lessen the risk of usage and possible consumption of water that has been deemed hazardous. The West Virginia National Guard will spearhead the effort to supply the residents of nine counties with clean, drinkable water until the contamination is contained.
The contamination was reported Thursday after a “licorice-like smell enveloped parts of the city. Governor Earl Ray Tomblin promptly ordered customers of West Virginia America Water “to not drink, bathe, cook, or wash clothes with tap water.” Work is being done to contain and prevent further water contamination. This is event has triggered national implications as President Barack Obama as called in the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate relief efforts. Because of the risk to so many residents, the federal government has launched an investigation.
The contamination is said to be attributed to a leak in one of the chemical tanks owned by Freedom Industries. Freedom Industries is a manufacturer of chemicals used in the “mining, steel, and cement industries,” according to the company’s webpage. The chemical manufacturer is located just one mile from West Virginia America Water. The reported leak is of a chemical produced by the company, 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol, which is used in the latter stages of coal production.
The West Virginia area affected includes the City of Charleston, located in Kanawha County, and nine surrounding counties. The main source of water in the area is the Elk River, which provides a source of water that is transported to its consumers by a 1,500 mile long pipeline. Because of the contamination to such an important local source of water, residents are up-in-arms about dealing with the unprecedented ban of water.
Residents of Charleston have been swarming local grocery stores to obtain what bottled water they can in the wake of this ongoing event. Convenience stores are also taking a massive hit as customers are realizing that finding clean water in times like these isn’t so convenient. “It was chaos, that’s what it was,” said one resident, Danny Cardwell, in dismay. The massive surge in the demand for bottles water has left many residents without a drop in the bucket.
Jaime Cook, a resident of Charleston, said, “There’s nowhere to buy water and everywhere seems to be sold out. This isn’t going to last two days.” Since water is running out and hopes of a clean shower are bleak, FEMA will bring in 75 trucks and around 18,500 liters of water which will arrive Friday evening. Governor Tomblin asserts that hospitals, nursing homes, and schools are the number one priority to getting Charleston back to normal.
“I’ve been working with our National Guard and Office of Emergency Services in an effort to provide water and supplies through county emergency services offices as quickly as possible,” he states.
Freedom Industries is said to be coordinating with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and DuPont to determine the level of contamination to the water. They are also trying to determine how long it will take to clean up the disaster and whether or not the watershed will be affected. As for the federal investigation, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin has launched a probe into the exact cause of the chemical leak. Approximate figures for level of the leak and the extent of the damage caused remain unclear; nonetheless, much will surface in the coming days and weeks.
By: Alex Lemieux