Imagine suddenly not having access to clean running water. How would it impact your daily routine? When you can’t use water from the tap to bathe, brush your teeth, drink, cook, or do laundry, things can get complicated. This situation is what 300,000 West Virginia residents have had to deal with since a chemical spill contaminated the water supply. For five days, residents had to rely on bottled water or relocate.
Businesses, schools, and daycares closed throughout Charleston metropolitan area, and are only just beginning to reopen. Quick response after the contamination was noticed has helped speed the process, but chemical spills are complex and far-reaching, and it could be several more days before everyone has access to clean water.
The spill flowed into the nearby Elk River, and investigations are ongoing to determine the full extent of the damage. Thus far, no fish kills or other negative effects on wildlife or aquatic life have been reported. The chemical that spilled, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, has a low toxicity and only 14 people exposed to the contaminated water supply have been admitted to the hospital (none in serious condition).
Some of the water determined safe still smells strongly of black licorice, making residents nervous. “I wouldn’t drink it for awhile. I’m skeptical about it,” says Wanda Blake, a Charleston resident who is worried she was exposed before the ban was announced. “I know I’ve ingested it.”
Other residents are less concerned, like Bernard Casdorph, who is a field deputy for the county assessor’s office. After three days, he got tired of not being able to shower. “I slipped. I went ahead and took a shower anyway. Maybe I shouldn’t have,” he admitted. “I just couldn’t take it. I asked everybody, ‘Am I turning green or blue?’”
Because of it’s low toxicity, officials say residents shouldn’t worry for their lives. However, exposure to the chemical can cause skin irritation, rashes, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Freedom Industries owns the leaky container, and company president Gary Southern announced on Friday that the leak had been stopped. From here, we can only hope residents will soon see a return to normalcy and preventative measures put in place for the future.