W. Virginia Chemical Spill Declared Federal Disaster, Residents Banned From Using Water

| by Sarah Fruchtnicht

A chemical spill in West Virginia that likely contaminated tap water in nine counties was declared a federal disaster overnight Thursday.

Residents have been advised not to drink, bathe, cook, or wash clothes with tap water.

The chemical, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, is foaming agent used in coal production and is harmful if swallowed and can irritate the skin and eyes.

It leaked from a tank at Freedom Industries and contaminated a river and nearby water treatment plant Thursday.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency yesterday.

The water company warned people in the affected area, counties of Kanawha, Boone, Cabell, Clay, Jackson, Lincoln, Logan, Putnam and Roane, of a possible contamination.

"I don't know if the water is not safe," said West Virginia American Water 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 is harmful, but not lethal, even in it strongest form.

State Department of Education spokeswoman Liza Cordeiro said schools in at least five of the counties will be closed Friday.

Twitter users posted pictures of store shelves where water sold out early Thursday.

By 8 p.m. Thursday the Saint Albans Police Department tweeted, "The St. Albans Krogers and K-Mart are sold out of water."

Another user claimed that stores were taking advantage of shoppers.

"So thankful we've stored water. Stores are price gouging and selling out. Sounds like a serious leak we've got," Holly Renee tweeted.

Sources: Fox News, Al Jazeera America