West Virginia Chemical Spill
West Virginia Chemical Spill Contaminates Water Supply, State of Emergency Declared
A chemical spill on a West Virginia river has left 300,000 people out of water and schools and business closed. A state of emergency has been declared.
Residents are lining up for bottled water and Governor Earl Ray Tomblin has declared a state of emergency for the nine counties involved following a 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol spill, according to a Reuters report. The chemical, a sudsing agent, is used in the coal industry. The firm at the center of the spill, Freedom Industries, describes itself on its website as a producer of specialty chemicals for the mining, steel, and cement industries.
FoxNews reported this morning that a federal disaster declaration has been issued for the West Virginia chemical spill, which allows for direct federal assistance in handling the spill, said Bill Hines of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). It is still not clear how much chemical spilled into the river and at what concentration.
The spill occurred near West Virginia’ largest water treatment plant on the Elk River in Charleston, West Virginia, the state’s largest and capital city. Residents have been told to use their tap water for flushing toilets and to fight any potential fires, and nothing more. Schools and restaurants have been closed, Reuters also reported.
In a statement, the governor announced that, "West Virginians in the affected service areas are urged not to use tap water for drinking, cooking, washing or bathing…. Right now, our priorities are our hospitals, nursing homes and schools," according to Reuters.
Chemical Tied to Adverse Reactions
West Virginia American Water President Jeff McIntyre said at a news conference that, "It's clear the chemical has infiltrated the water." When asked what might happen should someone consume the chemical, McIntyre would not provide specifics and said that the chemical is not “particularly lethal in its usage form," and that the chemical’s effect was dependent on its concentration. Meanwhile, other officials have indicated that they were unable to locate specific information on the human dangers associated with the chemical.
Citing a number of published studies, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) indicates that short-term exposure to methylcyclohexanol can cause reactions when exposures occur by breathing the chemical in and by the chemical being passed through the skin, including eye and skin irritation, and upper respiratory tract irritation. Prolonged or excessive exposure can lead to headaches; irritation of the ocular (eye), respiratory membranes, and mucous membranes; heart, liver, kidney, and lung damage; and death. One peer-reviewed study revealed that, in some cases, exposures led to a drop in blood leukocytes and one person was diagnosed with lymphocytosis.
Nine Counties Under Water Ban
The spill appears to have originated with Charleston-based Freedom Industries, said Laura Jordan, the external affairs manager for West Virginia Water. Restaurants and schools that receive water from the company have been ordered closed by Dr. Rahul Gupta, health officer for the Kanawha-Charleston and the Putnam County Health Departments, Reuters reported. According to Amy Shuler Goodwin, Tomblin's spokeswoman, an end-date for the ban is not yet known.
The spill and ban have impacted at least 100,000 homes and business, which means that 250,000 to 300,000 people are impacted, Jordan explained, noting that, "It could be potentially harmful if swallowed and could potentially cause skin and eye irritation," the Reuters report also indicated. Hospitals and nursing homes are also impacted, noted The West Virginia Gazette
The West Virginia Department of Environment Protection (DEP) received a report of an odd odor, which prompted a visit to the Freedom Industries site. There, the DEP discovered a storage unit, Shuler Goodwin said. Water testing is underway by both West Virginia Water and state environmental officials, according to the Reuters report. The company is also collaborating with state and federal officials to provide residents with bottled water, said Jordan.
Initially, eight counties and part of a ninth county in West Virginia were impacted. Later, three more counties were added and then parts of yet another county was added. The governor declared a state of emergency in all of the impacted counties, according to a report issued by The West Virginia Gazette. Customers of a number of public service districts were also advised to not use their water.
Governor Tomblin said, "Nobody really knows how dangerous it could be. However, it is in the system. It's just so important, according to the health department, as well as West Virginia American: Please don't drink, don't wash with, don't do anything with the water," The West Virginia Gazette reported.
The state Air National Guard has been transporting bottled water to the affected areas and water delivery stations were being coordinated for bottled water pickup and for residents to fill their own containers. The state of emergency will remain in effect until the state Department of Health and Human Resources, the Department of Environmental Protection (EPA), and West Virginia American Water clear the water for use, according to the governor, The West Virginia Gazette reported. "It could take some time, they can't tell us how long it will take, to get the system flushed clean because some of these pipes go out as far as 60 miles."
Spill Not Self-Reported to Regulatory Agencies
Mike Dorsey, director of emergency response and homeland security for the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), said his division heard about the spill from the DEP air-quality officials who received complaints about an odor. Officials discovered the spill and advised Dorsey’s unit, according to The West Virginia Gazette. Freedom Industries did not self-report the spill to any regulatory agency. State investigators discovered that the leak originated from the bottom of a storage tank and had “overwhelmed” a concrete dike that was constructed as a "secondary containment" around the tank, Dorsey said. "That was going over the hill into the river," Dorsey said. "Apparently, it had been leaking for some time. We just don't know how long."
"This is not a chemical that we deal with every day. It's not the type of thing we would see in dealing with a water treatment plant," McIntyre noted. "We took some time to understand even what we were dealing with at the time." The company will have to conduct "extensive flushing" to ensure the contaminant is out of its system, The West Virginia Gazette reported.
Legal Help for Victims of West Virginia Chemical Spill
If you or a loved one sustained an illness or injury as a result of exposure to 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol following the chemical spill in West Virginia, you may have valuable legal rights. We urge you to contact our chemical spill lawyers today by filling out our online form, or calling 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).