The Times West Virginian

West Virginia

January 14, 2014

After spill, water ban lifted for part of W.Va.

CHARLESTON — Safe tap water gushed from faucets and shower heads in West Virginia on Monday, a welcome sight and sound for a small fraction of the 300,000 people who have not been able to use running water since a chemical spill five days ago.

It could still be days before everyone in the Charleston metropolitan area is cleared to use the water, though officials said the water in certain designated areas was safe to drink and wash with as long as people flushed out their systems. They cautioned that the water may still have a slight licorice-type odor to it, raising the anxieties of some who believed it was still contaminated.

“I’m not going to drink it. I’ll shower in it and do dishes in it. But I won’t drink it. I don’t think it’s (the chemical) all out,” said Angela Stone, who started the 30-minute or so process of flushing her system out soon after the ban was lifted.

By Monday evening, officials had given the green light to about 15 percent of West Virginia American Water’s customers, and company spokeswoman Laura Jordan said as much as 25 percent of its customer base could have water by the end of the day.

The water crisis shuttered schools, restaurants and day-care centers and truckloads of water had to be brought in from out of state. People were told to use the water only to flush their toilets.

“Finally,” said Stone’s husband, James Parker. “I can finally take a shower, do dishes and cook some regular meals.”

Officials were lifting the ban in a strict, methodical manner to help ensure the water system was not overwhelmed by excessive demand, which could cause more water quality and service problems. An online map detailing what areas were cleared showed a very small portion in blue and a vast area across nine counties still in the ‘do not use’ red.

Customers were credited with 1,000 gallons of water, which was likely more than enough to flush out a system. The average residential customer uses about 3,300 gallons per month.

Some people said they weren’t worried about the odor.

“It’s not going to bother me as long as we know it’s clean,” said Peter Triplett, a state library commission worker whose home was near the first area allowed to use water. “It’s been rough going.”

The first area cleared was downtown Charleston, the state capital and its largest city. Hospitals were open and flushing out systems, but schools were to stay closed Tuesday.

The water crisis started Thursday when a chemical used in coal processing leaked from a Freedom Industries plant into the nearby Elk River.

Complaints came in to West Virginia American Water about the odor and officials discovered the source was the chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol that spilled out of a 40,000-gallon tank.

In all, state officials believe about 7,500 gallons leaked from the tank. Some of the chemical was contained before flowing into the river and it’s not clear exactly how much entered the water supply.

Federal authorities, including the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, have opened an investigation.

Charleston attorney Anthony Majestro represents several businesses that lost money while shut down and said he has lost count of the numerous lawsuits filed over the spill.

Over the past few days, tests have showed that levels were consistently below a toxic threshold, and in some samples, there was no trace of the chemical at all.

Some people put plastic bags around faucets so that they were reminded not to use the water. Others have left town to take a shower and find an open restaurant.

Steve Graham, who works at Union Mission in downtown Charleston, said they handed out more than 150 pallets of bottled water packs since the weekend. Graham said the water ban slipped his mind Monday night.

“I got that mouthful of water in the middle of the night just waking up, and instantly you got that candy taste in your mouth,” he said.

Graham said he rinsed his mouth out with bottled water and was fine.

Only 14 people exposed to the contaminated water were admitted to the hospital, and none was in serious condition. No fish kills were reported and there was no impact to aquatic life or wildlife, state officials said.

The chemical, even in its most concentrated form, isn’t deadly. However, people were told they shouldn’t even wash their clothes in affected water, as the compound can cause symptoms ranging from skin irritation and rashes to vomiting and diarrhea.

Company president Gary Southern held a brief news conference Friday night, but otherwise company officials have declined to comment.

“We have mitigated the risk, we believe, in terms of further material leaving this facility,” he said then.

1
Text Only
West Virginia
  • Some state Democrats flip to GOP

    As Republicans rally for more control in West Virginia’s long-time Democratic Legislature, a few Democrats have jumped ship to the GOP and are challenging former colleagues in midterm races.
    Republicans face their biggest election opportunity in decades in the House of Delegates, where a four-seat swing would put them in power for the first time in 85 years.

    April 20, 2014

  • Gee’s move could save Ohio State millions

    Ohio State University expects to save millions of dollars because former president Gordon Gee is giving up part of his retirement package as he becomes president of West Virginia University for the second time.

    April 19, 2014

  • W.Va. AG court filings: Dismiss gun law question

    The attorney general says a court challenge should be dismissed over whether West Virginians can bring guns to city recreational facilities that hold school events.
    Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s filings Thursday argue the city of Charleston shouldn’t receive court guidance on how to implement a state gun law.

    April 18, 2014

  • Energy-state Dems split from Obama

    Scrapping to keep a West Virginia Senate seat Democratic in a state that’s sprinted to the right, Natalie Tennant is counting on her allegiance to the coal industry to separate herself from an unpopular President Barack Obama.
    Her approach reflects common Democratic strategy and tactics this midterm election year in energy-producing states that lean Republican: Sen. Mary Landrieu is vying for a fourth term representing Louisiana; Alaska Sen. Mark Begich is running for re-election for the first time; and Kentucky Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes wants to replace Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

    April 17, 2014

  • Official: $2M in chemical spill costs reimbursable

    Public agencies and nonprofits that helped after a Jan. 9 chemical leak into the water supply could receive $2 million in reimbursements for their emergency work, a West Virginia homeland security official said.
    Federal and state emergency officials briefed fire departments, paramedics and other government groups Wednesday on how to recoup costs.

    April 17, 2014

  • Manchin urges mines to speak out for coal

    The Democratic senator leading the battle against the White House’s strategy to fight climate change urged the mining industry on Tuesday to speak out about coal’s role in providing affordable, reliable electricity to the country to help combat strict new emissions rules for coal-fired power plants.

    April 16, 2014

  • Many schools already meet new mandate for breakfast

    Many West Virginia public schools have changed the way they serve breakfast to students ahead of a requirement that goes into effect in September.

    April 14, 2014

  • W.Va. grower promotes unmodified feed corn

    Lyle Tabb is hoping that his non-genetically modified corn will take off with farmers who can charge top dollar for “all natural” eggs.
    Genetically modified or GMO corn has greatly simplified the process of getting rid of weeds, but has also substantially increased the amount of a chemical call glyphosate.

    April 13, 2014

  • Geologists link small quakes to fracking

    Geologists in Ohio have for the first time linked earthquakes in a geologic formation deep under the Appalachians to hydraulic fracturing, leading the state to issue new permit conditions Friday in certain areas that are among the nation’s strictest.
    A state investigation of five small tremors last month in the Youngstown area, in the Appalachian foothills, found the injection of sand and water that accompanies hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the Utica shale may have increased pressure on a small, unknown fault, said State Oil & Gas Chief Rick Simmers. He called the link “probable.”

    April 12, 2014

  • Phares looks forward to retirement

    James Phares looked forward to the challenge and opportunity to help make a difference in a state education system under fire when he was hired in late 2012 as West Virginia’s schools superintendent.
    After 18 months, Phares will be stepping down on June 30 — which he said was set long ago as the day at age 61 that he’d walk with his wife into retirement.

    April 11, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads