CHARLESTON, W.Va.—The White House has issued a federal disaster declaration in West Virginia, where a chemical spill that may have contaminated tap water has prompted officials to tell at least 100,000 people not to bathe, brush their teeth or wash their clothes.
Bill Hines, of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, says the declaration made overnight allows for direct federal assistance in dealing with the spill.
West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin had previously declared a state of emergency after the spill from Freedom Industries hit the river and a nearby water treatment plant.
The chemical, a foaming agent used in the coal preparation process, leaked from a tank at Freedom Industries, overran a containment area and went into the river.
`I don’t know if the water is not safe,” said water company president Jeff McIntyre. “Until we get out and flush the actual system and do more testing, we can’t say how long this (advisory) will last at this time.”
McIntyre said the chemical isn’t lethal in its strongest form. Kanawha County emergency officials said the chemical is called 4-methylcyclohexane methanol. Freedom Industries officials were unavailable for comment.
According to a fact sheet from Fisher Scientific, the chemical is harmful if swallowed and causes eye and skin irritation and could be harmful if inhaled.
In the capital city of Charleston, a smell similar to licorice or cough syrup was evident in the air both outdoors and in areas where it had already reached the water supply.
Based in Charleston, W.VA, Freedom Industries produces specialty chemicals used in mining, steel and cement. Watch this video coverage posted by BBC news: