CHARLESTON, W.Va. — As about 300,000 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 was safe for them to drink tap water again.
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.
At a news conference here Saturday, officials said that 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.
On Saturday, local officials were distributing clean water at fire stations, a high school and a pizzeria. FEMA planned to bring about 211,000 more gallons of water to the region Saturday, and an additional 211,000 today.
At least 122 people have gone to local hospitals reporting nausea and vomiting, state officials said Saturday. Five people were admitted at two hospitals.
Four people who were hospitalized at Charleston Area Medical Center on Thursday have been released, said Dale Witte, a spokesman for the center.
About 7,500 gallons of chemical was spilled into the river, about 2,500 more than previous estimated, said Mike Dorsey, chief of homeland security and emergency response for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.
State officials said the industrial chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, or MCHM, used in coal processing, seeped from a ruptured storage tank Thursday into the Elk River. Exposure to the chemical, which smells like licorice, can cause headaches, eye and skin irritation and difficulty breathing, according to the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists.