​West Virginia Chemical Spill: Drinking water tainted with chemical​​

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January 12, 2021
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West Virginia residents could be without clean tap water for days following a chemical spill, officials said Jan. 11. The presence of a chemical showed up in water sample tests in the public water system.

Authorities said late Saturday that water samples were improving after the chemical spill, but flushing would not begin until readings were under the 1 part per million level for a 24-hour period. More than 100 more samples were due to be tested overnight.
 
Meanwhile, 800,000 liters of fresh water were scheduled to be shipped into the affected area Saturday and Sunday night.
 
Residents in nine counties were told to not drink their tap water or use it to bathe or wash dishes or clothes after a foaming agent used in coal processing escaped from a Freedom Industries plant in Charleston and seeped into the Elk River. The only allowed use of the water was for flushing toilets. The order applies to about 300,000 people.

On Saturday, blame was placed squarely at the company’s feet, with West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection Director Mike Dorsey saying Freedom Industries “is responsible, therefore they are responsible for cleanup.”

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said he will work with his environmental agency head to look into tighter regulation of chemical storage facilities in the ongoing legislative session.

“There are certain reporting things that companies have to do,” Tomblin said. “And I do think we have to look at them to make sure this kind of incident does not happen again.”

Gary Southern, president of Freedom Industries, apologized Friday for disrupting so many lives in southern West Virginia and said the company still does not know how much of the chemical spilled from its operation into the river.
 
“We’d like to start by sincerely apologizing to the people in the affected counties of West Virginia,” Southern said. “Our friends and our neighbors, this incident is extremely unfortunate, unanticipated and we are very, very sorry for the disruptions to everybody’s daily life this incident has caused.”
 
At least four people have been hospitalized and hundreds of residents called the West Virginia Poison Center to report concerns or symptoms related to the spill, including nausea, vomiting, dizziness, diarrhea, rashes and reddened skin, state health officials told Reuters.
 
Allison Adler of the Department of Health and Human Resources said 47 people sought treatment at area hospitals for symptoms.