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Hundreds of thousands still without drinking water in West Virginia

More details about the chemical spill on Jan. 9 that contaminated the drinking water for hundreds of thousands of West Virginians are being made public as the "Do Not Use Water" alert continues in effect. Clean water and bottled water is being trucked into the eight county disaster area. Water distribution centers have been established and WOWK television is maintaining a list of those sites.

West Virginia American Water customers line up for water at the Gestamp Plant after waiting hours for a water truck, only to have it empited in about 20 minutes on January 10, 2014 in South Charleston, West Virginia.
Photo by Tom Hindman/Getty Images

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection describes the origins of the chemical spill in a press release:

Freedom Industries Etowah River Terminal was the site of a Jan. 9 incident during which a tank leaked an unknown quantity of MCHM into secondary containment. A portion of that material escaped secondary containment and reached the Elk River.

An investigation was initiated by the Division of Air Quality that morning following citizen complaints of objectionable odors near and downriver from Freedom Industries’ Etowah River Terminal. At 11:10 a.m., DAQ personnel discovered the source of these odors was from a leaking Crude MCHM tank and that no spill containment measures had been initiated. The crew also observed that an accumulated pool of MCHM was seeping through a containment dike.

The spill happened about 1.5 miles upstream in the Elk River from the water intake for the Kanawha Valley water system. About 100,000 customers are affected in all or parts of nine counties and the state capital of Charleston. The water system operator is West Virginia American Water.

Freedom Industries has been served with two notices by the state of West Virginia. It has been ordered to cease operations at the Etowah River Terminal. Three tanks that contained 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM), the chemical that spilled, have already been emptied. It has also been ordered to empty 11 tanks within the failed containment area where the spill occurred. The 11 contain other chemicals, which have not leaked. Freedom Industries has also been given 24 hours to prepare a plan for corrective actions, including remediation and cleanup.

President Obama signed an Federal emergency declaration for eight West Virginia counties on Jan. 10. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is drawing on its stockpile of clean water to send over 264,000 gallons to the disaster zone. The WV National Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers and scientists from a number of state and federal agencies are working with the water system operator to test the purity of the water in the Kanawha Valley water system. There is no estimate for when the "Do Not Use Water" alert will be lifted.

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