The West Virginia chemical spill has impacted nine counties and completely shut down offices and business in the central region of the state, including in the capitol of Charleston. The contaminated water is too dangerous for residents to drink and to use even for bathing, laundry or hand washing.
Governor Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency on Thursday after the spill from Freedom Industries affected a river and a nearby water treatment plant. The entire area has now been deemed a national disaster area. Upwards of 200,000 people are impacted.
The water was contaminated by an agent that is commonly used in the coal mining process. The chemical agent reportedly overran a containment area and flowed into the river, sparking immediate panic among both residents and environmental officials.
West Virginia American Water customers flocked to groceries stores and cleared the shelves within hours. The chemical foaming agent contamination incident appears to solidly disprove FEMA warnings indicating that food and water will disappear from supermarkets within a mere three days after a disaster. For water, it was much sooner.
One Charleston area mom was forced to buy ice (which took her three stops to find) in order to make formula for her baby. The grateful mom was hurrying home to melt the ice on the stove to feed her hungry infant as soon as she could exit the lengthy checkout line.
Freedom Industries President Jeff McIntyre said:
Don’t make baby formula Don’t brush your teeth. Don’t shower. Toilet flushing only.
McIntyre said that the chemical, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, is not lethal in its strongest form. A Fisher Scientific fact sheet states that the chemical is harmful if swallowed and causes both skin and eye irritation, and can also be harmful if inhaled. The strong smell deemed by some to resemble the scent of cough syrup or licorice, has been especially pungent in the capital city.
Staff and guests at the Charleston Marriott, which is located just several blocks from Elks River, which also flows into Kanawha River in the downtown area, reported the strongest chemical smell. The hotel turned off all water to the lodging facility, and then temporarily turned the flow back on so toilets could be flushed. Guests were given one tall bottle of water upon their return to the hotel. It remains unknown if the guests were offered access to additional drinking water overnight.
The chemical spill highlights the need to always have a “get-me-home bag” or bug-out bag with you at all times. Charleston is a large and beautiful city with a moderate amount of gas stations and convenience stores in the historic downtown area. But, when thousands of residents are converging upon stores of all types in search of water, visitors to the city unfamiliar with the area are less likely to make it to a store in time to grab one of the few remaining bottles of water. A convenience store cashier told local news media that it was pure “chaos” inside the business after the chemical spill became public.
The lack of clean drinking water is negatively impacting not only humans but livestock on farms in the region, as well. Finding and transporting water to livestock has become a mounting issue during the past 24 hours. If the water contamination had occurred during the hot summer months, the water shortage would also likely have caused damage to farm crops and backyard gardens.
The federal disaster area includes all or parts of the counties of Kanawha, Boone, Cabell, Clay, Jackson, Lincoln, Logan, Putnam and Roane. The West Virginia National Guard is in the midst of mobilizing at Charleston’s Yeager Airport to offer emergency services and to distribute clean drinking water. Injuries due to drinking the water prior to the alert of because of inhaling the 4-methylcyclohexane methanol remain unknown. Hospitals located in the nine-county federal disaster area were likely flooded with residents and visitors concerned about their exposure.