CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State officials say the chemical contamination affecting the water supply to 200,000 West Virginia American Water Company customers in nine counties is becoming more diluted, though it’s still unclear when the water will be safe to use.

A do-not-use order was issued late Thursday by the water company.

“I don’t know how long the order will last,” Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said at a Friday afternoon news conference.

Jennifer Smith/MetroNews

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin addresses reporters on the water state of emergency in a nine-county region from the state capitol.

An undetermined amount of the chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methane—used in the coal industry—leaked from a Freedom Industries tank Thursday, spilling into Elk River. It was sucked up in the water company’s intake line about a mile downstream.

Officials have been running tests to determine the levels of the chemical. West Virginia National Guard Adjutant General James Hoyer said they have learned it’s becoming more diluted.

“There has been a reduction in the concentration in the water from two parts per million to 1.7 parts per million,” Hoyer said.  “The CDC says one part per million would be an acceptable level. Point-one would be the level there they would not notice any smell or taste difference.”

Still, Hoyer cautioned it could take awhile before they know that the water is safe. “It takes 46 minutes to run each test,” he said.

Earlier in the day, WVAW president Jeff McIntyre said they were trying to figure out how best to treat the contamination.  “What kind of quantities can be present in the drinking water and not pose harm to our customers?” he said.

The spill occurred when a tank at Freedom Industries began leaking, said Jim Dorsey of the state Department of Environmental Protection. “It was not a catastrophic failure of the tank or the containment,” Dorsey said. “There was a leak in the tank.”

Dorsey estimates that between 2,000 and 5,000 gallons of the chemical leaked from the 40,000 gallon tank, but not all of it entered the river.  “Quite a bit of it was caught in the secondary containment,” he said.

Still, questions remain about how the leak was handled.

The state DEP was called at 8:15 a.m. Thursday with a complaint about an odor. The agency tracked it to the Freedom Industries site by 11:15 a.m., but the company did not provide a notice of the leak until 12:05 p.m.

“The company probably could have reported it a little sooner,” said DEP secretary Randy Huffman.

After that, it took several hours for WVAW to determine that their filtering system would not clean the chemical out of the water.  The do-no-user order was not issued until later in the day.

“I can’t tell you why it was not detected quicker,” said Tomblin. “This discharge of pollutants is unacceptable.”

State health officials say four to six people have reported to area hospitals with symptoms, such as nausea, that could be related to exposure to the contaminated water.  “If you experience symptoms, seek care immediately,” Tomblin said.

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Comments

  • Mitzie

    If tap water is unsafe than why is hydrant water safe It all comes from the same place does it not

  • LEE ARTHUR

    Don't believe these lying buttholes .

  • Mason County Contrarian

    Nationally this is going to make us look like idiots.

  • Hillboy

    What exactly is the chemical that was leaked? WV MetroNews is calling it 4-methylcyclohexane methane but I've noticed other news outlets are calling it 4-methylcyclohexane methanol. Methanol makes more sense to me because it is a liquid and methane is a gas. If the methylcyclohexane is mixed with methanol it would be good to know what percent is methanol and what percent is methylcyclohexane.

  • Larry

    I heard that once this chemical mixes with water, it binds permanently and the water, and all water lines will never be safe to use again, they are saying that everyone who lives in the affected areas will have to move, and the homes demolished because there is no way to clean out the hot water tanks.

  • WV4life

    The question I have in all of this is why aren’t the storage tanks that store this chemical along with others I am sure have a “Secondary Containment” build around them? That way if there is a leak it will be contained and not leak into the river! If this chemical is this bad and it is just upstream from the water treatment plant it would only make sense to have containment around it. I am sure OSHA will be looking into that. I work at a major utility company in WV and ALL of our liquids from 2 million gallon fuel oil tanks to 50 gallon portable diesel/gas tanks have at least enough containment to hold the capacity of the tank. ~Just Saying~

  • Chuck Anziulewicz

    I guess the licorice odor coming from my tap water is the smell of American Exceptionalism.

  • Mike Kirtner

    Friday's Talkline was a perfect example of broadcasting at its best. Informative without sensationalizing. Thanks Hoppy for a job better than "well done"

    Mike

  • Marty Chase

    This story is way behind the curve...needs to be updated immediately.
    NBC is reporting hundreds have gone to hospitals with symptoms. Also see the Gazette story by David Gutman on the company (Freedom Industries). Apparently one of the principals is a former drug dealer.
    This is a major disaster and won't be "swept under the rug."

    • Whatamoroon

      NBC never makes up stories or embellishes the truth for ratings! The truth is NBC is the most unbelievable news broadcast in the history of propaganda.

    • Jason412

      Thanks for the info Mook.

      Not only was he a pretty large coke dealer, he evaded over 200k in taxes.

  • mook

    If all of the safety device's where checked at all the chemical plants along the waterways in the valley, how many would have to shut the plants down till fixed? Won't happen, why?
    To much money involved. The same reason
    why Miley and the other politicans won't increase taxes on oil and gas. Piss them off and they will leave the state,they think. More like there pockets will empty out.

  • Ed

    The biggest hit on the environment will be all the plastic water bottles used during the do not use time.

  • Richard Newsome

    The secondary containment, if properly constructed should have caught the entire spill. Someone had to approve that structure, so why did it not work.

  • Fed Up

    Wvtd nothing personal here but there's not a chance in Hell this one is going to be swept under any rug..

  • Dark

    Hate to nit pick words but Mr. Dorsey there was NO secondary containment. Having a career as an engineer in the chemical industry, secondary containment means it CONTAINS IT. The statement should have been the secondary containment failed.

  • Jason412

    Was no one working at this plant or what? Te smell was strong enough for someone to call the DEP at 8am, the DEP traces it to the plant and 11am and an hour later Freedom calls it in? Some very damning evidence of negligence.

    Expect that hospital admissions number to skyrocket.

    • The bookman

      Have you ever been near industrial chemicals? There are so many odors and aromas. They are in the business of shipping the stuff and are around it all the time. When I was in college I worked in a pizza shop...after a few weeks you never noticed the smell of the pizza. After leaving the pizza business, it was years before my senses recovered.

      I still have a sense that they were alerted to the leak by public reports or maybe the DEP itself. I don't think they monitored the tank properly due to the low risk nature of the chemical, even in its pure form, much less when diluted. No specific facts to back that up, just piecing the timelines together. I can't believe that anyone would not report the leak knowing it was discharging into a public water source for 200,000 people.

      • Jason412

        Bookman, putting the smell of a pizza shop on the level of 5,000 gallons of a chemical dumping is a hell of a stretch.

        If the smell was so constant, wouldn't the neighbors think it was just business as usual?

        I would assume Freedom Industries aren't in the business of breathing all the chemical's they're shipping, it's not like all the tanks have no lids or something. Maybe while they're transferring it from a tank to a truck the smell would be overwhelming, but while everything was in a tank?

        It's a respiratory irritant, so surely these guys aren't breathing it all day every day and would notice a strong smell of licorice.

        I can't believe anyone would let a convicted cocaine dealer run a huge chemical company. But I can't believe all kinds of things that happen these days.


        For the first time, I too am glad to live in the mountains and glad to have spring water.

        • The bookman

          C'mon Jason,

          The analogy was I regard to working around the same environment day in and day out...a level of comfort occurs and what is common place to you as the employee is out of the ordinary or even noxious to others.
          I've been building shelves lately for my family room and pre finishing the shelves with polyurethane. It doesn't bother me being around it like my kids or my wife because I am used to it. Same thing.
          I too was shocked to hear of the history of the owner. Maybe rehabilitation works? Or maybe rehab is in his future?

          Anyhow, I hope you don't take my comments as an excuse for their poor performance..I truly think it was an accident involving a low risk chemical agent and that in the end all will be lucky more damage was not done and people did not die. What an inconvenience due to a lack of basic safety management.

          • Jason412

            I definitely get what you're saying as far as a certain level of comfort. I guess it's just hard to even speculate on what was going through their if they did smell it.

            After everything I'm hearing as far as the business and safety side I'm surprised they were able to stay in business.

            And of course, I'm really still wondering why in a post 9/11 world a chemical company beside a large river wouldn't have at least 1 armed security guard on duty all the time.

            I looked up some of the chemicals I had found on their site, and after seeing that I definitely agree it is lucky that it was only that chemical that spilled, it could have been a lot worse.

            One more blow to WV's economy as far as the tourism the rivers bring. I'm not sure how big water tourism is in S. WV but the area I live in about triples in size during summer from all the out of state people here to fish/swim/camp.