Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

Community News Network

January 10, 2014

300,000 in W.Va. without drinkable water; no timeline for fix

(Continued)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. —

According to a fact sheet from Fisher scientific, the chemical is harmful if swallowed, and may also be harmful if inhaled. It causes eye and skin irritation.

The spill caused a state of emergency in Kanawha and eight other counties where West Virginia American Water customers reside. Restaurants in Charleston were closed immediately, and grocery store shelves were stripped of bottled water early in the evening. Schools in the region were closed Friday.

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin announced Friday that his office is investigating the incident.

“Yesterday’s release of a potentially dangerous chemical into our water supply has put hundreds of thousands of West Virginians at risk, severely disrupted our region’s economy and upended people’s daily lives,” Goodwin said. “My office and other federal law enforcement authorities have opened an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the release. We will determine what caused it and take whatever action is appropriate based on the evidence we uncover.”

State Sen. Daniel Hall, a Democrat, was part way through his plate of wings at a local sports bar where he and fellow legislators had gathered to watch a game about 6:30 p.m. Hall said he got a text message about the  ban on water use, then started following local news media on Twitter. The restaurant stopped all new orders, he said.

The “No Use” order, which means that water can only be used to flush toilets and fight fires, was issued as a precaution, officials said, because they are still not sure what, if any, risk the spill poses to residents.

McIntyre said his company won’t know that until they know the health standards for the diluted chemical.

Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute at West Virginia University, said a 3,000 gallon spill would translate to 41 milligrams per liter in the Elk River and 6 milligrams per liter in the Kanawha River, using data available now.

"Those are pretty low concentrations," he said. "You would have to drink thousands of gallons of that water to get anywhere near a lethal dose."

Still, he said, showering would not be a good idea, because the chemical could irritate the skin and lungs.

Details for this story were reported by The Register-Herald in Beckley, W. Va.

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