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West Virginia chemical spill prompts state of emergency

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A chemical spill in Charleston, West Virginia yesterday led West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin to issue a State of Emergency for several counties. The declaration followed an announcement from the West Virginia American Water Company (WVAW) that its water supply had become contaminated.

“West Virginians in the affected service areas are urged NOT to use tap water for drinking, cooking, washing or bathing,” Gov. Tomblin said in a statement on the West Virginia website. “Right now, our priorities are our hospitals, nursing homes, and schools. I’ve been working with our National Guard and Office of Emergency Services in an effort to provide water and supplies through the county emergency services offices as quickly as possible.”

The leak occurred at the Freedom Industries in Charleston. The counties affected are: Boone, Cabell, Clay, Jackson, Kanawha, Lincoln, Logan, Putnam, and Roane counties.

Since this is chemical, as opposed to bacterial, boiling water will not help make the water safe. Hence, WVAW customers should not use tap water for drinking, cooking, washing clothes, washing dishes, or bathing. The water can still be used for flushing toilets and fire emergencies.

President Barack Obama has signed an Emergency Declaration for West Virginia. This action allows the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate disaster relief and assist with state and local response efforts. FEMA is specifically authorized to identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency, states a FEMA release. The Federal Coordinating Officer is Michael J. Lapinski.

The chemical, which authorities believe has contaminated the Elk River, is 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol. This chemical is used in the process of coal washing and preparation.

Chemicalbook.com lists the risks and safety issues concerning this specific chemical. The chemical can cause burns. It can be irritating to eyes and respiratory system and the skin. It is toxic to aquatic organisms and reacts violently with water.

The state veterinarian was consulted, according to the West Virginia state site, concerning the safety of livestock. As of late Thursday evening there are no known associated risks to livestock that may have been exposed, said Dr. Jewell Plumley.

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