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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  • Steve

    I do believe there was a failure of the containment Mr. Dorsey! Like posted before, main water intake a mile downstream from plant. What was there first? And who approved the second or thought that will never be an issue? Good luck WV and like everything else, hind sight is 20/20!

    • Larry

      I'd say the plant was probably there first, it's an old Pennzoil location, supposedly built back in the 30's-40's., been there a long time.

  • Larry

    As I said before, the solution to pollution is dilution.

  • Leah

    West Virginia really is almost heaven... Even our rivers smell like candy!

  • curious

    Something like this a mile upstream from the water company's intake and no containment infrastructure in place. I wonder why the DEP wasn't on this prior to something like this happening?

    • Guardian

      It was clearly stated there is a primary and secondary containment infrastructure in place. The primary caught most of the leak. More caught by the secondary. But alas, some did escape the secondary.

      • Dark

        Primary containment is the tank itself. That failed. Secondary containment is the dike walls that surround the tank and are designed to stop a catastrophe like this from happening. The secondary containment obviously failed it isn't designed to be overwhelmed in some cases - it is designed to be fail safe. Something isn't being told here!

    • susanf1218

      Because it is the DEP! Kind of like asking the fox to guard the henhouse . . .

  • Joe

    I heard a Carrier employee on your show making a comment that we should shut off our humidifiers if we have one that works with our furnace due to water vapor that would circulate the chemicals throughout ducts and into the air. I have such a device. What should we do? Thank you.

  • Aaron

    Every bit of it should have be contained in some manner or another given that the majority of the Kanawha Valley's water supply comes BELOW the tanks. I would think that if the company cannot provide proper containment, they would be forced to shut the location down.

    • wvtd

      this incident will probably get swept under the rug with a few good campaign donations.