West Virginia Water Supply Endangered By Chemical Spill

West Virginia's water supply was tainted by a chemical spill in the Elk River in Charleston. The spill prompted the federal government to declare a disaster, as 300,000 people in nine counties are unable to use their tap water. Residents in Boon, Cabell, Clay, Jackson, Kanawha, Lincoln, Logan, Putnam, and Roane, counties were warned to avoid using the water for consumption, bathing, or clothes washing. Boiling the water will not remove the chemicals.

On Thursday, a tank owned by Freedom Industries leaked. The tank contained 40,000 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, which is a foaming agent used in coal processing. Although the chemical initially leaked into a containment system, it eventually overflowed into the river.

NBC News reports the spill occurred in close proximity to the Kanawha Valley water treatment plant intake.

West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Tom Aluise said he is confident that "no more than 5,000 gallons" leaked from the tank. He said the amount that reached the river was far less.

Authorities are uncertain how much of the chemical spilled into the river or what kind of impact it will have on the West Virginia water supply. West Virginia American Water company president Jeff McIntyre said samples are currently being tested for levels of concentration. He said the chemical is not lethal. However, the entire system will be flushed before water service is restored.

As reported by CBS News, skin irritation and nausea are common symptoms of an adverse reaction. More severe symptoms include skin blistering, sore throat, uncontrollable vomiting, and difficulty breathing. Concerned residents are urged to contact a medical profession for assessment and treatment.

The emergency has forced the closure of businesses and schools throughout the region. Although grocery stores stocked up on bottled water, many have completely run out. The West Virginia National Guard will be delivering water to numerous agencies throughout the nine counties.

In addition to the lack of water, residents said the region smells like licorice-flavored cough syrup. Officials with the West Virginia water company are unsure how long it will take to clean up the mess.

[Image via Wikimedia]