CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A West Virginia University researcher is saying state precautions are prudent in light of a declared state emergency following a chemical spill affecting water in southern West Virginia.
Residents in Boone, Cabell, Clay, Jackson, Kanawha, Lincoln, Logan, Putnam and Roane counties are being advised to use tap water only to flush toilets.
The chemical, 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol, is used as a foaming agent to separate coal from clay particles in the coal-cleaning process.
Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute, said the chemical is potentially most harmful in skin contact or inhalation.
"It will absorb through your skin," he said. "It will cause irritation to your skin or irritation to your lungs."
It's important to note that the smell of the chemical isn't harmful on its own -- the chemical itself must come into contact with the skin or lungs, or be ingested.
It's difficult to know how harmful tap water is though, he said, because most studies on the chemical have used it in pure form or at very high concentration levels.