West Virginia chemical spill shuts down capital city, water supplies

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Jan. 10, 2013 -- On Thursday, Jan. 9, a significant chemical spill occurred along the Elk River in Charleston, W.Va., shutting down the majority of the city and affecting about 30,000 people.

The discharge originated at Freedom Industries, a provider of specialty chemicals for the mining, steel and cement sectors, where a 48,000-gallon tank at the site leaked 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol (MCHM), a chemical used to clean mining equipment. Authorities believe that as much as 5,000 gallons of the chemical was released into the environment.

According to a release from West Virginia American Water Company, the contamination has affected the entire Kanawha Valley water system, including Kanawha, Boone and parts of Putnam counties. Jeff McIntyre, president of the organization, noted in a statement that American Water doesn't know if the water is safe to use but is continuing to conduct tests of its quality.

The incident prompted Governor Earl Ray Tomblin to issue a state of emergency for nine counties and President Barack Obama to declare an emergency on Friday, Jan. 10.

Those 30,000 residents affected by the contamination were told on Friday not to consume or use the water until authorities can conclude when it is safe. Consequently, local stores and vendors distributed clean bottled water to them but are quickly running out of supplies.

West Virginia American Water stated in a release that it is not shutting off water to any customers as a result of the "do not use" order currently in place in the Kanawha Valley system. The company is receiving widespread customer reports of false automated calls claiming that West Virginia American Water is shutting off water and advising customers to fill their bathtubs, etc.

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