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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.
I hope this latest mess will be fix ASAP. I understand W.V., as well as many other States reliance on Heavy Industry's for State revenue, Jobs or as part of Way of Life, specially during difficult economic times for the average Jane/Joe. But many amongst us can not continue objecting in denial of this accidents and others waiting to happen. Thinking/believing that science & common sense are just wrong or a political tool. Some of this Industries continue to be critical to our country for the immediate future, but with so much potential for damage, industries should not and can not be trusted to Manage & Regulate themselves.
Sad story really , ha . Maybe we do need federal regulations . As I believe we do .
Unfortunaly then those running the EPA get less hush money in their pockets .. Including our President - he is in th pockets of the Oil Barons.. So ture Money talks!
You mean to tell me that they had no back up containment system to catch any leaks? Why would a chemical plant be anywhere near a drinking water source? You would think that each tank would have a catch basin and pumps to trasfer before it moved off site....really dumb
buisness says it costs toomuch money, and that they will bevery carefull. ha, what ballony. itscalled neglect. they wont fix it till its broke..
No amount of money will undo the damage that was done to the environment or to the people who were exposed.
...and yet Preppers get made fun of for planning for events such as these.
Yep Electric it's time to start "prepping" for the next millennium! Remember what a disaster the last one was?
There's video of the CEO of Freedom industries shrugging it off to a reporter as no big deal, he's even quenching his thirst with a cool bottled water.
I only hear this being described as a "foaming agent" and a "chemical". Unless I'm just totally blind and deaf, I've not heard or seen WHAT the "chemical" is and what its long-term affects are.
4-methylcyclohexane methanol, or Crude MCHM is the chemical that was leaked into the Elk River here in Charleston WV
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!
We live an unnatural existence more every year, accidents are going to happen A perfect living ended with the American Indian they moved with the season, used only what they needed to live and they treated the earth with a spiritual solution.We live like aliens from another planet, hey its a good life but, most lakes are polluted with fertilizer just for greener grass, cars that use fuel that comes under dirt and when that void collapses I would hate to see the results.There is a lot we all could do but, we don't because, this is easier than a sacrifice. Our economy is going down every year jobs going away. Is it time that we look at our way of life and question do we need a big house Vs a small house and so on can we do with less not in Tee Pees but, with a close to a non impact that require a lot less income to support our families. I live in a 5000 sq ft house with 4 people 3 cars and work hard to keep it. I am tired of busting my ass for a house and stuff. We all where sold on this idea that more is better I think less is best and I want to down size any American Indians out there that have an idea to bring us back to reality in a way we could adapt to a new way of life with less as the goal.
Paddleman1928- I am not sure how you could arrive to the assertion that "I would not mind a nuclear plant", a petroleum line, a coal mine, a gas line or a fracking field in my back yard... I do think they are double edge swords and "I do mind" and take into concideration in my back yard or yours. My point is that until we have a better way lets pay attention to what we have and are using. I am for safe, affordable, sustainable alternatives recycling and maybe Solar, Geo, Wind and we are farther along then 10 years ago, but with the exception of a few very small countries or countries were their population is geographically concentrated, there is no ONE answer, YET!