HAZMAT in USA on Friday, 10 January, 2014 at 16:45 (04:45 PM) UTC on RSOE EDIS

Schools and restaurants closed, grocery stores sold out of bottled water, and state legislators who had just started their session canceled the day's business after a chemical spill in the Elk River in Charleston shut down much of the city and surrounding counties even as the cause and extent of the incident remained unclear. The federal government joined the state early Friday in declaring a disaster, and the West Virginia National Guard planned to distribute bottled drinking water to emergency services agencies in the nine affected counties. About 100,000 water customers, or 300,000 people total, were affected, state officials said they reported in requesting the federal declaration. Shortly after the Thursday spill from Freedom Industries hit the river and a nearby treatment plant, a licorice-like smell enveloped parts of the city, and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin issued an order to customer of West Virginia American Water: Do not drink, bathe, cook or wash clothes with tap water. The chemical, a foaming agent used in the coal preparation process, leaked from a tank at Freedom Industries and overran a containment area. Officials from Freedom, a manufacturer of chemicals for the mining, steel, and cement industries, hadn't commented since the spill, but a woman who answered the phone at the company said it would issue a statement later Friday. Other officials say the orders were issued as a precaution, as they were still not sure exactly what hazard the spill posed to residents. It also was not immediately clear how much of the chemical spilled into the river and at what concentration. Freedom Industries - Charleston West Virginia 4-Methylcyclohexanemethanol spill January 2014 on Google Maps Freedom Industries - Charleston West Virginia on Google Maps

Situation Update No. 1 on Saturday, 11 January, 2014 at 05:13 UTC

At least 100,000 customers in nine West Virginia counties were told not to drink, bathe, cook, or wash clothes using their tap water because of a chemical spill into the Elk River in Charleston, with Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declaring a state of emergency Thursday for all those areas. 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 earlier Thursday. The amount that spilled wasn’t immediately known, but West Virginia American Water has a treatment plant nearby and it is the company’s customers who are affected. “The water has been contaminated,” said Tomblin, who did not know how long the emergency declaration would last. Officials, though, said that they aren’t sure what hazard the spill poses to humans and that there were no immediate reports of people getting sick. It also was not immediately clear how much spilled into the river. “I don’t know if the water is not safe,” said water company president Jeff McIntyre. Tomblin said he’s asking the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist the state with supplies of bottled water. But people weren’t waiting. Once word got out, customers stripped store shelves in many areas of items such as bottled water, paper cups, and bowls. As many as 50 customers had lined up to buy water at a convenience store in Charleston. “It was chaos - that’s what it was,” cashier Danny Cardwell said. The don’t-drink-the-water declaration involves customers in the counties of Kanawha, Boone, Cabell, Clay, Jackson, Lincoln, Logan, Putnam, and Roane. Most of the counties surround the capital city of Charleston, where there was a chemical smell similar to licorice in the air both outdoors and in areas where it had already reached the water supply Thursday night. West Virginia lawmakers who just started their session this week won’t conduct business Friday because of the problem, and a State Department of Education spokeswoman said schools in at least five of the counties will be closed. Freedom Industries did not immediately respond for comment. The Elk River flows into the Kanawha River in downtown Charleston. The Kanawha eventually flows into the Ohio River at Point Pleasant, about 55 miles to the northwest.

Situation Update No. 2 on Sunday, 12 January, 2014 at 05:45 UTC

Up to 300,000 people in West Virginia have been told not to drink tap water after the spill of a dangerous chemical sparked a federal emergency. State governor Earl Ray Tomblin and President Barack Obama issued emergency declarations on Friday after the spill of up to 5,000 gallons of 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol, or Crude MCHM, into the Elk River in Charleston. The release originated at Freedom Industries, a Charleston firm producing specialty chemicals for heavy industry. Shops ran out of bottled water as residents rushed to buy supplies, forcing Tomblin to call for calm. “If you are low on bottled water, do not panic. Help is on the way,” Tomblin said. “We are taking every measure to provide water to you.” He said supplies were moving into the area. The governor said that there were several thousand gallons of the chemical at the Freedom Industries factory, and it is estimated that at the maximum about 5,000 gallons leaked out. Gary Southern, the president of Freedom Industries, said that the company was still determining how much Crude MCHM had been released. “Our team has been working around the clock since the discovery to contain the leak to prevent further contamination,” he said. Emergency workers distributed water to centres around the affected area. Residents formed long lines at stores and quickly depleted supplies of bottled water.

Situation Update No. 3 on Sunday, 12 January, 2014 at 06:02 UTC

DHHR confirms four people have been hospitalized from coming into contact with bad water, after chemicals spilled into the Elk River. The water is tainted with a foaming agent from the Freedom Industries plant. No word yet on how much of the chemical leaked. HUndreds of people have called the poison center reporting symptoms that would indicate they came into contact with the tap water. West Virginia Governor Tomblin Earl Ray Tomblin warns people of what those symptoms are. “If you or anyone you know experiences symptoms including nausea, vomiting, dizziness, irritation of the eyes and skin, seek care immediately,” says the governor. There is still no time table for when customers will be able to use their water.

Situation Update No. 4 on Sunday, 12 January, 2014 at 12:12 UTC

A company president apologized to West Virginia residents for a chemical leak that got into a public water treatment system, and a state agency ordered Freedom Industries to remove its remaining chemicals from the site. About 300,000 people in nine counties entered their third day Saturday without being able to drink, bathe in, or wash dishes or clothes with their tap water. The only allowed use of the water was for flushing toilets. Officials remain unclear when it might be safe again. Federal authorities, including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, began investigating how the foaming agent escaped from the Freedom Industries plant and seeped into the Elk River. Just how much of the chemical leaked into the river was not yet known. “We’d like to start by sincerely apologizing to the people in the affected counties of West Virginia,” company President Gary Southern said. “Our friends and our neighbors, this incident is extremely unfortunate, unanticipated and we are very, very sorry for the disruptions to everybody’s daily life this incident has caused.” Some residents, including John Bonham of Cross Lanes, were willing to accept Southern’s apology.

“Yeah, I understand that stuff can happen,” said Bonham, who also works in the chemical industry. “I don’t think it’s going to get him out of legal liability. OSHA is the one they’re going to have to answer to.” Officials are working with a Tennessee company that makes the chemical to determine how much can be in the water without it posing harm to residents, said Jeff McIntyre, president of West Virginia American Water. “We don’t know that the water’s not safe. But I can’t say that it is safe,” McIntyre said Friday. For now, there is no way to treat the tainted water aside from flushing the system until it’s in low-enough concentrations to be safe, a process that could take days. The leak was discovered Thursday morning from the bottom of a storage tank. Southern said the company worked all day and through the night to remove the chemical from the site and take it elsewhere. Vacuum trucks were used to remove the chemical from the ground at the site. “We have mitigated the risk, we believe, in terms of further material leaving this facility,” Southern said. He said the company didn’t know how much had leaked. The tank that leaked holds at least 40,000 gallons, said state Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Tom Aluise, although officials believe no more than 5,000 gallons leaked from the tank. Some of that was contained before escaping into the river, Aluise said.

Freedom Industries was ordered Friday night to remove chemicals from its remaining above-ground tanks, Aluise added. The company was already cited for causing air pollution stemming from the odor first reported Thursday, Aluise said. The primary component in the foaming agent that leaked is the chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol. The spill has forced businesses, restaurants and schools to shut down and forced the Legislature to cancel its business for the day. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said the Federal Emergency Management Agency and several companies were sending bottled water and other supplies for residents. “If you are low on bottled water, don’t panic because help is on the way,” Tomblin said. At a Kroger near a DuPont plant along the Kanawha River, customers learned the grocery store had been out since early Friday. Robert Stiver was unable to find water at that and at least a dozen other stores in the area and worried about how he’d make sure his cats had drinkable water. “I’m lucky. I can get out and look for water. But what about the elderly? They can’t get out. They need someone to help them,” he said.

Situation Update No. 5 on Sunday, 12 January, 2014 at 17:17 UTC

As hundreds of thousands of residents faced a third day without water because of a chemical spill in a local river, a water company executive said Saturday that it could be days before it is safe for them to drink tap water again. A state official also said thousands of gallons more of the chemical had leaked into the Elk River than was initially believed. Jeff McIntyre, president of West Virginia American Water, said that officials had set up four labs to test the amount of chemical in the water, but that it might take days to provide enough samples to determine whether the water was safe. A team from the Chemical Safety Board, an independent federal agency that investigates industrial chemical accidents, will arrive Monday to begin looking into the spill, the board said Saturday. “Our goal is to find out what happened to allow a leak of such magnitude to occur and to ensure that the proper safeguards are in place to prevent a similar incident from occurring,” said Rafael Moure-Eraso, the chairman of the safety board. At a news conference Saturday, officials said the Federal Emergency Management Agency had already brought roughly 370,000 gallons of drinkable water to Charleston, the state capital, and nine surrounding counties that have been affected. Residents have been instructed to not drink tap water, shower, or use the water for anything other than flushing the toilet.

About 7,500 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, or MCHM, spilled into the river, about 2,500 more than previously estimated, said Mike Dorsey, chief of homeland security and emergency response for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. After local officials complained of problems communicating with Freedom Industries, the company that owns the ruptured tank, Dorsey said Saturday that the company had been more cooperative. “It’s in everyone’s best interest to communicate well,” Dorsey said at the news conference. State officials said the MCHM, used in coal processing, seeped from a ruptured storage tank on Thursday into the Elk River, just upstream from the intake pipes for the regional water company. Exposure to the chemical can cause headaches, eye and skin irritation and difficulty breathing, according to the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists. Officials said the level of MCHM in the water must be below 1 part per million to be considered safe, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency. Dorsey said concentrations in the Elk River had fallen to 1.7 parts per million from 3. President Barack Obama declared a federal emergency Friday, while Booth Goodwin, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia, announced that his office and “other federal law enforcement authorities have opened an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the release.” On Saturday, the local health department said that it was working to reopen restaurants, day care centers and other facilities that were closed because of the spill. They are required to submit a plan for obtaining drinkable water to receive conditional approval to reopen, said Dr. Rahul Gupta of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department.

Stay update on this situation here.

EDIS Number: HZ-20140110-42228-USA
Event type: HAZMAT
Date/Time: Friday, 10 January, 2014 at 16:45 (04:45 PM) UTC
Last update:
Cause of event:
Damage level: Unknown Damage level
Geographic information
Continent: North-America
Country: USA
County / State: State of West Virginia
City: Charleston
Coordinate: N 38° 21.540, W 81° 38.400
Number of affected people / Humanities loss
Foreign people: Affected is unknown.
Dead person(s): 0
Injured person(s): 4
“US declares emergency after chemical spill” on YouTube

FEMA: West Virginia Chemical Spill (EM-3366)

Incident period: January 9, 2014
Emergency Declaration declared on January 10, 2014

FEMA Daily Operations Breif December 12, 2014 - Chemical Spill Charleston West Virginia 01 FEMA Daily Operations Briefing December 12, 2014 - Chemical Spill Charleston West Virginia[/caption]

FEMA Daily Operations Briefing December 12, 2014 - Chemical Spill Charleston West Virginia FEMA Daily Operations Briefing December 12, 2014 - Chemical Spill Charleston West Virginia

Got Water?

A map of safe drinking water, showers, food, and laundry locations is available here: wvfindwater.com

West Virginia — Water Distribution Centers

Addition information:

  • Methylcyclohexanol Human Health Effects - toxnet.nlm.nih.gov
  • UPDATED: Chemical Leak in Charleston WV water supply, “Only safe use is to flush or put out fire” - Daily Kos
  • Freedom Industries, Company Responsible For WV Chemical Spill, Operating Illegally? - AddictingInfo.org
  • BREAKING!!! West Virginia Declares State Of Emergency After Chemical Spill Leaks Into Elk River - YouTube

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