On Thursday, West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency in 9 counties following a notice from the West Virginia American Water Company that their water supply had become contaminated due to a chemical spill in the Elk River. Residents living in the affected counties have been urged not to drink, cook, or bathe with tap water.
The ban could affect more than 100,000 residents, according to the WV Gazette. Water is being brought in by the state National Guard, and distribution centers are expected to be set up today. President Obama signed an emergency declaration authorizing FEMA to supplement state and local efforts.
“Right now, our priorities are our hospitals, nursing homes, and schools,” Gov. Tomblin said in a statement on Thursday.
According to the West Virginia American Water Company Facebook page, the spill occurred along the Elk River, contaminating the Kanawha Valley water system.
Stores are reportedly sold out of water, and schools and restaurants have been closed. Hospitals have been receiving concerned residents, although no serious illnesses have been reported to the water company.
The leak was reported Thursday morning at Freedom Industries, a company that produces specialty chemicals for the mining, steel, and cement industries. Thomas Aluise, a spokesman for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection told CNN that the leaked chemical is 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, which is harmful if ingested or inhaled, but not lethal.
The chemical is used primarily to separate coal particles in the preparation process, according to WCHS News. Symptoms of concern include severe burning in the throat, severe eye irritation, continuous vomiting, trouble breathing, and severe skin irritation.
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