CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Frustration is
mounting for many of the 300,000 West Virginia residents who've gone three days
without clean tap water.
Chris Laws found bottled water on
Saturday for his two elderly next-door neighbors.
"They can't get out," said
Laws, 42, of Marmet, a coal miner. "I'm keeping an eye on them. You got to
watch out for your neighbors. They're the ones who are going to watch out for
He said he was angry at the company at
the center of the leak, Freedom Industries.
"A lot of people are facing bad
situations because of this," he said. "They're struggling. What I
don't understand is how did this happen?"
The emergency began Thursday following
complaints to West Virginia American Water about a licorice-type odor in the
tap water. The source: the chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, which had
leaked out of a 40,000-gallon tank at a Freedom Industries facility along the
State officials said Saturday they
believe about 7,500 gallons leaked. Some of the chemical was contained before
flowing into the river; it's not clear exactly how much entered the water
It could take days for clean tap water
to flow again. First, water sample test results must consistently show that the
chemical's presence in the public water system is at or below 1 parts per
million, the level recommended by federal agencies, West Virginia American
Water President Jeff McIntyre said Saturday at a news conference.
Most visitors have cleared out of
Charleston while locals are either staying home or driving out of the area to
find a hot meal or a shower elsewhere. Orders not to use tap water for much
other than flushing toilets mean that the spill is an emergency not just for
the environment but for local businesses.
"I haven't been able to cook
anything at home and was hoping they were open," Bill Rogers, 52, said
outside a closed Tudor's Biscuit World in Marmet, just east of Charleston.
"It seems like every place is closed. It's frustrating. Really frustrating."
There's no question businesses have been
hurt - particularly restaurants and hotels, said Matt Ballard, president of the
Charleston Area Alliance, the state's largest regional chamber of commerce.
"I don't know that it can be
quantified at this point because we don't know how long it will last,"
Ballard said. "I'm hoping a solution by early next week so business can
get back to normal."
The Alliance is urging business owners
to check their insurance policies to see if they can make claims over lost sales.
It plans to hold workshops to assist businesses with those issues, Ballard
All told, 32 people have sought treatment at hospitals for symptoms such as nausea. Of those, four were
admitted to the Charleston Area Medical Center but their conditions weren't
Federal authorities, including the U.S.
Chemical Safety Board, opened an investigation into Thursday's spill.
West Virginia National guard officials
said they need a 24-hour period in which samples at the water treatment
facility are below 1 part per million. Many samples are meeting the mark, but
some are still hitting slightly above 1 part per million.
After they achieve that goal, West
Virginia American Water Company can begin sampling across the nine-county
region and flushing the system. That process would take days, said company
president Jeff McIntyre.
According to Department of Environmental
Protection officials, Freedom Industries is exempt from DEP inspections and
permitting since it stores chemicals, and doesn't produce them.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said he will work
with his environmental agency chief on tightening regulation of chemical
storage facilities in the current legislative session.
In downtown, the store Taylor Books
usually fills the 40 seats in its cafe. But the cafe was shut down by the state
Department of Health on Friday because it said employees had no way to safely
wash their hands before serving customers. On Saturday only three people sat in
the bookstore using the wireless Internet. Manager Dan Carlisle said he
canceled a musician scheduled to play that night and the store was going to
close five hours early.
"It's pretty annoying,"
Carlisle said about Freedom Industries' response to the spill. "I feel
like you should just be honest with people immediately."
At Charleston's Yeager Airport, seven
inbound and outbound flights were canceled. The reason for the cancellations
was an agreement between the airlines and unions for flight crews and pilots
that hotels meet a certain threshold of service, and the lack of water violates
the agreement, said airport spokesman Brian Belcher.
State officials were working over the
weekend on alternative sources of water that may allow restaurants to reopen.
Several businesses that had arranged other sources of water were inspected
"We will work around the clock,
24-7, and try to open ... as many businesses as possible in the next couple of
days," said Dr. Rahul Gupta, health officer for the Kanawha-Charleston and
Putnam County boards of health.