CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Thousands of West Virginians still cannot use the water that’s running into their homes.
A do not use water notice continued Friday morning for customers of West Virginia American Water Company in nine counties: Kanawha, Putnam, Boone, Jackson, Clay, Logan and Roane along with Culloden in Cabell County.
A State of Emergency was also in effect in those areas.
“Do not drink it (the water), do not cook with it, do not wash clothes in it, do not take a bath in it,” said Governor Earl Ray Tomblin on Thursday evening. “We do not know, at this time, exactly how long this ban will be….please do not use the water with the exception of flushing your commodes.”
As many as 100,000 WVAW customers, including hospitals, nursing homes, restaurants and homes, fell under the notice as company officials worked to determine if, in fact, the water was contaminated.
Late Thursday night, Governor Tomblin said the White House had approved his request for a federal emergency declaration to help in affected areas following an incident that started as a chemical spill that was located Thursday morning along the Elk River in Charleston.
Reports indicated the chemical involved was 4-methylcyclohexane methane, a foaming agent used in coal preparation, that leaked from a tank at Freedom Industries.
Those with Freedom Industries were working on Thursday afternoon to determine exactly how much of the chemical spilled into the Elk River near the Kanawha Valley Water Treatment Plant. Company officials said the tank where the leak occurred was moved off site for measurements.
Originally, WVAW officials had said they did not think the incident would affect water quality. That was revised late in the day Thursday and WVAW President Jeff McIntyre said the do not use order, which was issued after 5 p.m., was out of an “abundance of caution.”
“I don’t know that the water is not safe. A do not use is being issued at this time because we do not know,” said McIntyre. “People need to heed it, we don’t do this lightly, tell customers not to use the water.”
State officials said it was possible the chemical could cause problems for some people. “Generally, the chemical itself is not toxic, but it is harmful if it’s swallowed,” said Tom Aluise, state Department of Environmental Protection spokesperson.
Water quality specialists were monitoring both raw and finished water on Thursday evening and crews were conducting flushing throughout WVAW’s distribution system. There were no indications of how long the do not use water notice would be in effect.
State and county officials were working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other agencies, including the West Virginia National Guard, to set up emergency water supply locations. Distribution sites were expected to be up and running by Friday.
Residents originally reported a strange odor in Charleston, one described as licorice, on Thursday morning.
“They called the Sissonville Fire Department out because people could smell it up on I-77. They also called the Charleston Fire Department because they could smell it along Garrison Avenue,” said C.W. Sigman, Kanawha County fire coordinator.
“I was familiar with the product because I’ve dealt with it before and, as soon as I smelled it, I said, ‘I know what this is.'”
Aside from Culloden, all other WVAW customers in Cabell County were not affected because those Cabell County customers receive their water from the Huntington Water Treatment Plant.
Customers served by the City of Hurricane, St. Albans, Putnam Public Service District , Montgomery, Cedar Grove-East Bank were also not affected.