West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin announced a state of emergency in nine counties on Thursday, Jan. 9, after a chemical spill contaminated the Elk River, resulting in a water ban estimated to affect about 200,000 customers of the West Virginia American Water utility.
Residents of Boone, Lincoln, Cabell, Kanawha, Jackson, Clay, Logan, Roane and Putnam counties were warned not to use tap water for drinking, bathing, washing or cooking. The ban does not apply in instances when tap water is needed for flushing toilets or tackling fire emergencies, the governor's office said.
Gov. Tomblin stated that measures were being taken to supply fresh water to priority locations, including schools, hospitals and nursing homes. State officials were working with the National Guard and Office of Emergency Services to get water and supplies to the affected counties as soon as possible, he added.
The ban was imposed after West Virginia American Water reported water contamination in a notice to the governor. According to CNN, about 7,500 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, a chemical used to clean coal, leaked out a storage tank at a chemical facility about a mile upriver from the West Virginia American Water plant.
Laura Jordan, giving a statement on behalf of the water utility, quoted a toxicologist at the chemical facility as saying that there was "some health risk" associated with the chemical, CNN said.