News Feature | January 15, 2014

West Virginia Chemical Spill: Water Use Ban Lifted, Authorities Still Investigating

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome

oil spill

A West Virginia city struggled this week with severely tainted tap water as a result of a chemical spill. 

"An investigation revealed [a foul] odor was a result of the chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, or MCMH, about 7,500 gallons of which had leaked out of a 40,000-gallon tank at a Freedom Industries facility," Time reported.

After previously ordering residents not to drink the water, authorities lifted the ban in many areas late Monday. 

"Following five days forsaking showers and brushing their teeth with bottled water, an estimated 300,000 residents around Charleston, W.V., will once again have access to safe tap water," Good Morning America reported

The spill had left water in the Charleston area "stained blue-green and smelling like licorice, with officials saying Friday it was unclear when it might be safe again to even take showers and do laundry," the Associated Press reported

Federal authorities are investigating the matter. It appears a  chemical "foaming agent” used in coal processing escaped from a plant in Charleston and seeped into the Elk River, the AP reported.  

The company that makes the chemical is aiding in the investigation, West Virginia American Water President Jeff McIntyre said in the AP report. 

The situation took a turn for the better on Monday. 

"We are at a point where we can see a light at the end of the tunnel," Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said in an NBC News report

The problem was a major inconvenience for industry and residents. 

The chemical "[shut] down schools and businesses across nine counties, and [forced] emergency agencies to truck in clean water to the Charleston region," the report said. 

Some critics said weak regulatory standards in West Virginia are to blame for the spill. 

“We can’t just point a single finger at this company,” said Angela Rosser, the executive director of West Virginia Rivers Coalition, in the New York Times. “We need to look at our entire system and give some serious thought to making some serious reform and valuing our natural resources over industry interests.”

For more on contamination issues, check out Water Online's Contaminant Removal Solution Center.