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4 hospitalized in W. Va. after chemical spill

300K In W. Va. Still Without Clean Drinking Water

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - A handful of people have been hospitalized and several hundred thousand remain without water after a chemical leaked from a storage tank in Charleston into the public water treatment system, state authorities said Saturday.

About 300,000 people in nine counties entered their third day Saturday without being able to drink tap water or use it to bathe or wash dishes or clothes after a foaming agent escaped the Freedom Industries plant and seeped into the Elk River. The only allowed use of the water was for flushing toilets.

Allison Adler of the Department of Health and Human Resources says 32 people sought treatment at area hospitals for symptoms like nausea and vomiting. Of those, four people were admitted to the Charleston Area Medical Center. Their conditions were not immediately known.

Adler added that authorities were still trying to figure out the safety level of the water and that more information should be available to residents later Saturday.

In the first hours after the spill, residents concerned about potential health effects deluged the West Virginia Poison Center with calls. Adler said about 50 people called with queries about keeping goats, chicken and other farm animals safe from exposure.

Federal authorities, including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, opened an investigation into Wednesday's spill. Just how much of the chemical leaked into the river was not yet known.

The company's president issued an apology to West Virginia residents.

"We'd like to start by sincerely apologizing to the people in the affected counties of West Virginia," company President Gary Southern said. "Our friends and our neighbors, this incident is extremely unfortunate, unanticipated and we are very, very sorry for the disruptions to everybody's daily life this incident has caused."

Some residents, including John Bonham of Cross Lanes, were willing to accept Southern's apology.

"Yeah, I understand that stuff can happen," said Bonham, who also works in the chemical industry. "I don't think it's going to get him out of legal liability. OSHA is the one they're going to have to answer to."

Officials are working with a Tennessee company that makes the chemical to determine how much can be in the water without it posing harm to residents, said Jeff McIntyre, president of West Virginia American Water.

"We don't know that the water's not safe. But I can't say that it is safe," McIntyre said Friday.

For now, there is no way to treat the tainted water aside from flushing the system until it's in low-enough concentrations to be safe, a process that could take days.

The leak was discovered Thursday morning from the bottom of a storage tank. Southern said the company worked all day and through the night to remove the chemical from the site and take it elsewhere.

"We have mitigated the risk, we believe, in terms of further material leaving this facility," Southern said. He said the company didn't know how much had leaked.

The tank that leaked holds at least 40,000 gallons, said state Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Tom Aluise, although officials believe no more than 5,000 gallons leaked from the tank. Some of that was contained before escaping into the river, Aluise said.

Freedom Industries was ordered Friday night to remove chemicals from its remaining above-ground tanks, Aluise added.

The company was already cited for causing air pollution stemming from the odor first reported Thursday, Aluise said.

The primary component in the foaming agent that leaked is the chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol. The spill has forced businesses, restaurants and schools to shut down and forced the Legislature to cancel its business for the day.

Health officials in Kanawha and Putnam counties were working to reopen restaurants, daycare centers and other facilities closed by the spill. Several facilities were inspected on Saturday after health officials approved their plans to provide water for drinking, cooking and other activities.

"We will work around the clock, 24-7, and try to open ... as many businesses as possible in the next couple of days," said Dr. Rahul Gupta, health officer for the Kanawha-Charleston and Putnam County boards of health.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said the Federal Emergency Management Agency and several companies were sending bottled water and other supplies for residents.

By Saturday morning, FEMA said it had delivered about 50 truckloads of water, or a million liters, to West Virginia.

The water was being distributed to residents at volunteer fire departments, community centers and other sites. No problems were reported at the sites, county emergency officials said.

"Everybody's been pretty patient with us," Greg Lay, Boone County emergency services director, said Saturday.

"Like most things that happen, we're into it enough now that everybody's ready for it to be over," he said.

At a Kroger near a DuPont plant along the Kanawha River, customers learned the grocery store had been out since early Friday.

Robert Stiver was unable to find water at that and at least a dozen other stores in the area and worried about how he'd make sure his cats had drinkable water.

"I'm lucky. I can get out and look for water. But what about the elderly? They can't get out. They need someone to help them," he said.

The spill, occurring during flu season, has raised concerns that cases could increase because residents can't use tap water to wash their hands, Gupta said.

"The flu at large is an issue and we are monitoring the numbers as well as this emergency," he said.

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bba007 January 12 2014 at 11:51 AM

Everyone is looking at what is happening now, and it is not good, but the real problems are in the future as what was leaked is a known carcinogen and will have huge ramifications in the future. The company should be shut down, and the owners charged with criminal negligence in the management of their company and its resources. Their only intent is to make money and rape the land.

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deritch1 January 12 2014 at 6:16 AM

its not that bad and some areas of the country have worse water supplies or threats from natural elements and past contamination. salem ma had to shut wells and springs off many years ago from industrial and cemetery pollution. t hey told people don't drink water and they did they put out the warning. two towns in Massachusetts Hudson and Ipswich were told to stop using there wells.

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2 replies to deritch1's comment
BJ McElwrath January 12 2014 at 6:59 AM

Your are the very 'Serpant'' that served up that bad apple to Adam and Eve.

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bba007 January 12 2014 at 11:55 AM

Your comment shows that your mentality is one of an amoeba's. This chemical spill not only affects people, but the whole environment and will be around for a very long time. This area of West Virginia may well be the next American Chernobyle, chemical style. This occurence is just the tip of the perverbial ice berg.

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Xhapytrkr January 12 2014 at 6:15 AM

Why is this or any other facility that has chemicals or any toxic material even allowed near any body of water?
They and all like them should be miles away from any water supply or lakes. That's right the government gave them the permits to operate. Think ahead then again we are talking about the government.

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2 replies to Xhapytrkr's comment
dlngciu3 January 12 2014 at 6:45 AM

some politicos want less regulation to help business

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razpu10 January 12 2014 at 9:10 AM

There are many water treatment plants located near water. Almost all of them return the water to the same body of water they take water from. The water returns usually cleaner than it came into the facility, they filter and treat the water before it returns to the river, stream etc.
You could never have a facility that would never run into contact into wells. Majority of underground wells in America have some form of contamination, and contamination could come from something miles away. You may be able to build facilities better in containing chemicals, but that would always be a the cost to the tax-payer, since it usually is a local municipality facility.

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mschroe477 January 12 2014 at 5:00 AM

I was listening to residents of the area being interviewed on how they're coping with the tight water restrictions and, they're NOT! I can understand them being upset because they don't have water for showers or bathing, cooking, and basically nothing except enough for drinking and that's it. Then I thought about people living in area's of the world that have been hit by disasters like Hurricane's, Tsunami's, Volcano's, and earthquakes where the surviving victims have very little if any water for long periods of time. Then there are places in the world where it's so dry and desolate that water is a luxury if they even get any really fresh water at all and many are dying of dehydration on a regular basis. I can see that if some sort of event takes place affecting millions in America things will get very bad really quick. I think we as American's have this false sense of security by thinking that "this will never happen to me" idea and then it does. This is a wake up call for everyone to actually store backup water if and when something occurs. "Be Prepared" is never an out of date saying.

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ricke4yos January 12 2014 at 12:59 AM

Here's what the right will be looking forward to a lot more of if they succeed in their attempts to further deregulate businesses (theoretically to stimulate the economy though there is no evidence that their increased profits would actually help the rest of us).

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semperlost January 12 2014 at 2:42 AM

Meanwhile Rick, a hundred million are recovering from Aljeezera Gore's GoreBull warming.

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1 reply to semperlost's comment
Jennifer January 12 2014 at 3:31 AM

And what exactly does that idiotic comment have to do with the price of tea in Boston? What has happened her has affected many people...families...the elderly who cannot get out of their homes in some of the hollers up there...Some do not have transportation and have to count on neighbors to take them where thsy need to go...And YOU have the gall to come on here son and make that ridicoulous comment? Shame on you Marine! I have TWO Marines in my family who would never write something so ill timed or having no PLACe on a story like this! Take your cynicism elsewhere child! These people need help and what has happened is NOT their fault. They are having to deal with the consequences of some moron's negligence! I have very good friends who live in those affected counties! And then You..a Marine...come on here with plain stupidness! Go find Al Gore's page and write that on there! Not here! If you can't help? Then shut the HELL up! Marine Mama from "Up North"!!!

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randmhunley January 12 2014 at 12:48 AM

funny how no one is talking about the people and water plants downstream
of this,
it is heading for other states
ohio kentucky ,ind,ill, and any state along the mississippi river

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1 reply to randmhunley's comment
razpu10 January 12 2014 at 9:14 AM

These facilities downstream should be monitoring the water in and treating the water out. So I am sure they are watching for this. The problem is the animals/plant life in/along the river. Although I am sure the states and feds are monitoring levels of the water down stream, most of this is probably too diluted to be a concern.

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mpholik720 January 12 2014 at 12:36 AM

I'm tired of industries polluting our water supplies. Our government is useless, the EPA is useless in protecting the people for deadly, cancer causing chemicals. The fact that it's an OLD problem makes it more evident how little the government, both federal and local, are concerned about the people. It's all the almighty dollar - coal, oil, fracking that is more important to the politicians and big corporations. I feel so bad for those hundreds of thousands of people in the several counties in W.Va. How will those chemicals EVER be removed from the water completely so as not to make people sick???? GREENPEACE help us!

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djtayfam January 11 2014 at 11:46 PM

This may be bad.. but has anyone ever driven from Logan to Beckley and seen the crap, garbage, and floating debris that is in the river along there.. I'm surprised the whole country hasn't gotten cholera or something worse.!!! WVa needs to clean up all of it's rivers! They're disgraceful!!!

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2 replies to djtayfam's comment
karen's computer January 12 2014 at 2:04 AM

Yes I've driven that route quite often and the only times that this is seen is after flooding and people loosing their homes and sometimes their lives. Of course there will be debris after flooding and guess what, it does get cleaned up.

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Michael January 12 2014 at 8:27 AM

That is mostly due to flooding...all the streams and rivers get runoff from the hills and mountains...So, it depends on the time of year you drive through there djtay...It does look bad in the spring for sure but again it's due to flooding

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jbiggs01 January 11 2014 at 11:28 PM

YEE HAA Let's drink shine instead

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apple92307 January 11 2014 at 11:11 PM

In the late 1930's I would play and ride in boats in the Kanawha River in W.Va.and there would always be dead fish floating in the river water by the hundreds. The river water above the chemical plants was always green and very clear but just at the chemical plants become very cloudy and dirty. THIS IS NOT A NEW PROBLEM!

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