A chemical spill in the Elk River has sent hundreds of West Virginia residents to the hospital out of fear for their health today, officials say.
The chemical, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol–used for coal washing and prep–, began leaking from Freedom Industries out of a 48,000 gallon tank sometime late Wednesday or early Thursday. Freedom Industries is a chemical storage facility located about a mile from a water plant which affects Boone, Cabell, Clay, Jackson, Kanawha, Lincoln, Logan, Putnam and Roane counties.
News of the spill spread quickly on Friday morning, sending many frightened residents to the hospital even though they weren’t displaying symptoms of illness. Now, finding clean water to drink, bathe in, and cook with has become a top priority. A spokesperson for West Virginia American Water Company says they have received calls about customers feeling ill, but nothing too serious. However, exposure to the chemical in large enough amounts can cause severe burning in throat, severe eye irritation, non-stop vomiting, trouble breathing or severe skin irritation/ blistering.
“Our emergency rooms have been very busy with individuals unnecessarily concerned and presenting no symptoms,” Charleston Area Medical Center said.
Officials say the water is safe only for flushing toilets or extinguishing fires at this point; a boil-water advisory would do no good, because heat doesn’t affect the chemical. Locals say there’s been a big run on bottled water at every retailer in the area, with no official word on when the water will be safe to drink. The spill has been declared an emergency by President Obama, who has authorized FEMA to organize relief efforts.
“Right now, our priorities are our hospitals, nursing homes and schools,” Governor Earl Ray Tomblin said. “I’ve been working with our National Guard and Office of Emergency Services in an effort to provide water and supplies through the county emergency services offices as quickly as possible.”
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