CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A state of emergency has been declared in nine counties where West Virginia American Water customers are being advised not to drink, cook with, bathe in or boil their water after the company's water supply was contaminated by a chemical leak early Thursday.
The chemical leak was stopped about two hours after it was reported. State officials have said they believe the chemical, 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol, could still be in the ground near the spill. They are working on a plan to completely address any soil contamination.There is a chance some of the chemical is still leaching into the Elk River, a Department of Environmental Protection official said Friday. Measures have been taken to limit any additional chemical runoff.
The contaminated water affects about 100,000 of the company's 171,000 customers.
The state Department of Environmental Protection estimates that between 2,000 and 5,000 gallons of a chemical used in coal processing leaked out of a 40,000-gallon holding tank along the Elk River.
An unknown amount of that 2,000 to 5,000 gallons of leaked chemical then leaked through a secondary barrier and seeped through the ground and into the river, according to state officials.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin urged affected West Virginia American Water customers in Kanawha, Putnam, Jackson, Clay, Lincoln, Logan, Roane and Boone counties, as well as customers in the area of Culloden in Cabell County, to stop using water for everything other than flushing toilets and fire suppression.
"Do not drink it. Do not cook with it. Do not wash clothes in it. Do not take a bath in it," Tomblin said. "For safety, we would ask everyone -- this includes restaurants, hospitals, any institutions out there -- please do not use any tap water if you're a customer of West Virginia American Water.
"If you're going to drink water you should get bottled water."
Dr. Rahul Gupta, health officer for Kanawha and Putnam counties, ordered all health department permit holding establishments, including restaurants, schools, nursing homes and hospitals, to shut down until the State of Emergency is lifted, said John Law, spokesman for the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department.
Law said hospitals and nursing homes likely would continue to operate as they typically have supplies for emergency situations.
School systems such as those in Kanawha, Putnam, Clay and Lincoln counties were announcing closures for Friday.
Thomas and St. Francis hospitals have advised staff not to use tap water for any purpose other than flushing the toilet and have turned off ice machines, self-filling coffeemakers and other water drawing devices, said Paige Johnson, a spokeswoman for the hospitals.
She said both hospitals have activated the Emergency Operations Plan and that additional staff wasn't needed at either hospital.
"We are working on contingency plans for alternate water supply," Johnson said in an email. "Bottled water will be distributed to the patient care areas. This water should be used for drinking ONLY and should be used sparingly until additional water is obtained or the order not to use the tap water has been lifted."
It isn't known how long the water ban will be in effect. The state of emergency will be in place until the Department of Health and Human Resources and the Department of Environmental Protection gave the OK on the water.
Tomblin said as of Thursday night the only place for West Virginia American Water customers to get water would be to buy bottled water at local stores. He said the state has already contacted the Federal Emergency Management Agency for assistance in getting more water to residents.
Jimmy Gianato, state homeland security director, said it would take time to get the additional water supplies to the area. He expected it would be delivered to the West Virginia National Guard base in Charleston and then distributed through county emergency operations centers.
Lt. Col. Todd Harrell of the West Virginia National Guard said water would be available at the Boone County 911 Center in Danville. Starting at 9 a.m. Friday, small amounts of water will be available at Duvall and Hamlin VFDs. Those who go there will need an ID and proof of residency.
People can pick up larger amounts of water at West Hamlin VFD and the Lincoln Primary Care Center. They should bring their own container. Distribution starts at 9 a.m.
It isn't known how long the water ban will be in effect. The state of emergency would be in place until the Department of Health and Human Resources and the Department of Environmental Protection gave the OK on the water.
Water was expected to be available Friday afternoon in Cabell County at the Culloden Volunteer Fire Department, in Putnam County at the Winfield courthouse and at the Charleston Civic Center.
On Thursday evening, bottled water was swiftly sold out at many area stores.
Sam's Club at Southridge Centre, for example, had 4,200 cases of water sell out in an hour and a half. Store employees called around a 20-mile radius in a search for more water but found none.
St. Albans police said Kroger and Kmart in that city were out of water.
Kanawha County officials were urging people to stop rushing to stores to buy water.
State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey issued a statement late Thursday reminding businesses and consumers about state laws barring sellers from inflating the price of water and other goods during a state of emergency.
"We are hearing reports of price gouging going on already in the region," Morrisey said. "It is illegal and just plain wrong for a business to take advantage of consumers and West Virginians during an emergency."
Morrisey urged residents to report any business or individual that has dramatically increased the price of water, ice or other goods in response to the water emergency in the affected counties.
He said reports can be made by calling his office's Consumer Protection Division at (800) 368-8808. He said consumers who paid high prices should make a copy of their receipt, if they still have it, and attach that copy to their complaint.
Water customers who get water from the Putnam Public Service District and cities of St. Albans and Cedar Grove are not affected.
The St. Albans system draws its water from the Coal River, and the Cedar Grove system draws from the Kanawha River, but several miles upriver from the Elk's confluence with the Kanawha. East Bank also uses Cedar Grove water.