Over 300,000 residents around Charleston, West Virginia, were told on Thursday January, 9, 2014, that the water coming out of their sinks was unsafe for cooking, bathing, drinking, and even washing their dishes and clothes. Many business and restaurants were closed by the Health Department because they were not able to use tap water for washing hands or for dishwashers. The only thing that residents of nine West Virginia counties were advised to use their tap water for is flushing toilets and fire suppression.
The water was deemed unsafe because a chemical storage facility, Freedom Industries, had leaked almost 8,000 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol or MCHM into the river. This toxic spill was located just up stream from the West Virginia American Water Company’s water treatment plant. As a result, Earl Ray Tomblin the state’s Governor issued a State of Emergency order to assist residents in getting access to clean water and to obtain federal help.
MCHM is used to clean coal during the manufacturing and refining process. The chemical smells very similar to licorice. When exposed to MCHM, humans can experience nausea, vomiting, burning skin, itching eyes, and rashes. According to news reports, 169 people have been treated for symptoms related to the water spill and 10 people have been hospitalized. Unfortunately, the EPA does not regulate this chemical’s presence in water, and has not suggested a filtration method for homeowners to use.
After four days of flushing the pipe systems and testing, the water company has slowly begun to release areas from the “Do Not Use” order. As of January 13, the area allowed to use tap water is very small, but is expected to grow throughout the coming days. Residents of West Virginia can look up their address on this interactive map to see if their water is safe.