Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Coal Chemical Spill Contaminates Drinking Water Prompting State of Emergency in West Virginia

Energy
Coal Chemical Spill Contaminates Drinking Water Prompting State of Emergency in West Virginia

By Kiley Kroh

Residents of nine counties in West Virginia have been told not to use or drink their water after a chemical used by the coal industry spilled into the Elk River on Thursday. Gov. Tomblin (D-WV) declared a state of emergency as more than 100,000 customers, or 300,000 people, are without safe drinking water.

The chemical, 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol, used to wash coal of impurities spilled from a tank at Freedom Industries into the Elk River, contaminating the drinking water for more than 300,000 residents.

“Don’t make baby formula,” said West Virginia American Water Company president Jeff McIntyre. “Don’t brush your teeth. Don’t shower. Toilet flushing only.”

The chemical, 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol (MCHM), is used to wash coal of impurities and spilled from a tank at Freedom Industries into the river. While the amount of MCHM that spilled wasn’t immediately known, West Virginia American Water has been conducting water quality testing every hour. According to Laura Jordan, a spokesperson with the water company, they believe the chemical is leaking at ground level and “there is a possibility this leak has been going on for sometime before it was discovered Thursday,” WSAZ reported.

Local officials described MCHM as smelling like licorice and looking like “cooking oil floating on top of the water.” The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources said symptoms of MCHM exposure include “severe burning in throat, severe eye irritation, non-stop vomiting, trouble breathing or severe skin irritation such as skin blistering.”

Though the spill occurred Thursday morning, West Virginia American Water didn’t provide its customers with a warning until evening and, as Al Jazeera reported, several were angered by the lack of information, particularly regarding what should be done if they had already used or ingested the water.

Early Friday, Tomblin announced that the White House approved a federal emergency declaration to help with the urgent water situation. Soon after the Governor’s declaration on Thursday, residents flooded local stores for bottled water and disposable dishes. “It was chaos, that’s what it was,” cashier Danny Cardwell told CBS News.

West Virginia American Water has emphasized that once contaminated by MCHM, the water cannot be treated. As a result, schools in at least five of the counties will be closed Friday and hospitals, restaurants, nursing homes and other establishments in the area are also banned from using their water as the entire system is flushed out and testing continues. As of early Friday, Freedom Industries, “a full service producer of specialty chemicals for the mining, steel, and cement industries,” had yet to comment on the spill.

Visit EcoWatch’s COAL and WATER pages for more related news on this topic.

By Frank La Sorte and Kyle Horton

Millions of birds travel between their breeding and wintering grounds during spring and autumn migration, creating one of the greatest spectacles of the natural world. These journeys often span incredible distances. For example, the Blackpoll warbler, which weighs less than half an ounce, may travel up to 1,500 miles between its nesting grounds in Canada and its wintering grounds in the Caribbean and South America.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Kevin Maillefer / Unsplash

By Lynne Peeples

Editor's note: This story is part of a nine-month investigation of drinking water contamination across the U.S. The series is supported by funding from the Park Foundation and Water Foundation. Read the launch story, "Thirsting for Solutions," here.

In late September 2020, officials in Wrangell, Alaska, warned residents who were elderly, pregnant or had health problems to avoid drinking the city's tap water — unless they could filter it on their own.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Eat Just's cell-based chicken nugget is now served at Singapore restaurant 1880. Eat Just, Inc.

At a time of impending global food scarcity, cell-based meats and seafood have been heralded as the future of food.

Read More Show Less
New Zealand sea lions are an endangered species and one of the rarest species of sea lions in the world. Art Wolfe / Photodisc / Getty Images

One city in New Zealand knows what its priorities are.

Dunedin, the second largest city on New Zealand's South Island, has closed a popular road to protect a mother sea lion and her pup, The Guardian reported.

Read More Show Less

piyaset / iStock / Getty Images Plus

In an alarming new study, scientists found that climate change is already harming children's diets.

Read More Show Less