State and federal authorities continue to descend on Charleston, West Virginia in the wake of a devastating chemical spill Thursday that has left 300,000 residents of nine counties unable to drink tap water and has forced the closure of schools and businesses.
President Obama on Friday declared a state of emergency for West Virginia and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local response efforts to the spill, which was first detected on Thursday. The environmental emergency was caused by the leak of an estimated 7,500 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM) from a tank at a Freedom Industries facility along Elk River. Although complaints about foul odors began coming in to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection just after 8 a.m. on Thursday, the company didn’t report the leak until 12:05 p.m.
No spill containment measures
By that time, state investigators had already discovered the source of the odors -- and that no spill containment measures had been initiated. The crew also observed that an accumulated pool of MCHM was seeping through a containment dike.
The release occurred approximately 1.5 miles upstream from the intake of the local public water supply.
The President's action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures.
A million liters of water
From a regional staging area in Charleston, FEMA has so far delivered approximately 1 million liters of water to distribution centers in Cumberland and Frederick, Maryland. People carrying empty pitchers and buckets have waited in lines for up to an hour to get a day’s worth of drinking water.
Residents in the affected areas have been instructed not to use the contaminated water for drinking, cooking, washing or bathing.
“Right now, our priorities are our hospitals, nursing homes, and schools,” said Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. “We ask that all West Virginians check on their friends, families, and neighbors—especially those with small children and seniors living in their households—to make sure they have enough water, food, and supplies. If you—or anyone you know--experiences symptoms including: nausea, vomiting, dizziness, irritation of the eyes and skin, seek care immediately.”
More than 160 people have sought treatment at hospitals for symptoms that include nausea.