CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Several hundred thousand people in West Virginia remained without clean tap water for a third day Saturday following a chemical spill and a water company executive said it could be days before uncontaminated water is flowing again.
Water sample test results must consistently show that the chemical’s presence in the public water system is at or below 1 part per million, the level recommended by federal agencies, before residents can turn on their taps again, West Virginia American Water President Jeff McIntyre said Saturday at a news conference.
The company told residents in nine counties to not drink their tap water or use it to bathe or wash dishes or clothes after a foaming agent used in coal processing escaped from a Freedom Industries plant in Charleston and seeped into the Elk River. The only allowed use of the water was for flushing toilets. The order applies to about 300,000 people.
FEDERAL INVESTIGATION OPENS
Thirty-two people sought treatment at area hospitals for symptoms like nausea and vomiting. Of those, four people were admitted to the Charleston Area Medical Center. Their conditions were not immediately known, Allison Adler of the Department of Health and Human Resources said Saturday.
Federal authorities, including the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, opened an investigation into Thursday’s spill. The Chemical Safety Board said Saturday that its investigative team is scheduled to arrive in West Virginia on Monday.
“This incident continues to impact the people of West Virginia – our goal is to find out what happened to allow a leak of such magnitude to occur and to ensure that the proper safeguards are in place to prevent a similar incident from occurring,” Chemical Safety Board chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso said in a news release.
About 7,500 gallons of the chemical escaped from a storage tank and a containment area, said Michael Dorsey, chief of the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Homeland Security and Emergency Response office.
COMPANY ISSUES APOLOGY
Just how much of the chemical leaked into the river was not yet known. But Dorsey said during the news conference that state officials do not believe waterways downstream, including the Kanawha and Ohio rivers, will be affected because of dilution.
On Friday, the company’s president issued an apology to West Virginia residents.
“We’d like to start by sincerely apologizing to the people in the affected counties of West Virginia,” company President Gary Southern said. “Our friends and our neighbors, this incident is extremely unfortunate, unanticipated and we are very, very sorry for the disruptions to everybody’s daily life this incident has caused.”