Hundreds report symptoms after chemical spill in West Virginia


Hundreds of people in the US state of West Virginia have complained of symptoms following a chemical spill into the Elk River that contaminated the water supply for 300,000 residents.

The chemical, used to wash coal of impurities, spilled into the river from a holding tank and prompted Governor Earl Ray Tomblin to declare a state of emergency.

Hundreds report symptoms after chemical spill in West Virginia

Over 1,000 people called 911 in the hours after the spill and fewer than 10 people were hospitalized. Schools and restaurants were closed and hotels refused reservations.

The leak began in Charleston, West Virginia’s capital, after a 48,000 gallon tank dumped an undefined amount of the compound 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol into the Elk River. The tank belonged to a chemical storage facility run by the Charleston-based company Freedom Industries.

Local officials became aware of the matter after residents complained about a black licorice smell in the water.

People may suffer skin blistering and shortness of breath if they are exposed to a sufficient amount of the chemical, also known as MCHM.

According to Charleston’s mayor and other officials, the greatest concern was that no one knows how long it would be before the water supply was potable again.

“We don’t know that the water is not safe, but I can’t say it is safe,” said Jeff McIntyre, president of the West Virginia American Water Company, which supplies most of the household water in the area. “The only appropriate use for this water is toilet flushing.”

On Friday, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection issued a violation notice to the company for releasing MCHM into the air, and it mandated all tanks on the site be emptied and the chemicals moved off site.

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