More than 300,000 residents of West Virginia spent a third day with no safe drinking water because of a chemical spill and they may not be able to shower or drink from the tap for days to come, an official said on Saturday.
West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin said there had been progress in the past 51 hours, and particularly on Saturday, but officials could not say when the ban might be lifted for the nine counties and the state capital of Charleston, the state’s largest city. As much as 18,927 liters of industrial chemical leaked into the Elk River on Thursday.
“Right now, no water is safe,” West Virginia American Water Co president Jeff McIntyre said.
It could be days before water quality meets federally mandated quality standards, he said.
The spill of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, or crude MCHM, came from a tank belonging to Freedom Industries, a Charleston company that produces specialty chemicals for the mining, steel and cement industries, authorities said.
West Virginia environmental protection department official Mike Dorsey said crews were using shovels, excavators, barges, vacuum trucks and other equipment to contain the spill.
“Every possible method of remediation for that kind of spill is being employed out there right now,” Dorsey said.
The amount of MCHM in the water was decreasing by late Saturday, but is not yet consistently low enough for people to safely use the water, West Virginia National Guard Lieutenant Colonel Greg Grant said.
The regional ban on using tap water will be lifted one area at a time as officials work to meet the one-part-per-million requirement set by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, McIntyre said.
Officials have said chemical levels in the water were declining, but the spill forced schools and businesses to close in Charleston and surrounding communities.
US President Barack Obama issued an emergency declaration and the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) sent 75 tractor trailers filled with bottled water to distribute.
FEMA said it had by Saturday sent about 1 million liters of water to the area, and more water was to be delivered on Saturday night and yesterday.
So far, 73 people had gone to area emergency rooms and five had been admitted for observation, said Karen Bowling, secretary of the state’s department of health and human resources.
Their symptoms included nausea, vomiting, dizziness, diarrhea, rashes and reddened skin, officials said.