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DEP Estimates 7,500 Gallons of Chemical Leaked, Water Ban Still in Place

By: WSAZ News Staff Email
By: WSAZ News Staff Email

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- During a press conference Saturday afternoon, the DEP said they now estimate 7,500 gallons of MCHM (4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol) have leaked into the Elk River in Kanawha County.

The emergency do not use water order is still in place Saturday as crews continue to test water supplies from several different areas.

Mike Dorsey with the DEP says they are "fairly confident" that the leak started Thursday.

West Virginia American Water customers in parts of nine counties are under a do not use water order. Those counties are also under a state of emergency issued Thursday evening by Governor Earl Ray Tomblin.

Crews currently have boats in the Elk River trying to contain the chemical from coming on shore. They say 7,500 gallons is believed to have spilled from the tank at Freedom Industries, through a one-inch hole. They don't believe the chemical is still leaking. They also say they are having more communications with the company.

Officials say they are still getting test samples on the water every hour, from where the water is coming into the plant, to areas along the way to distribution centers. Those tests originally took about 46 minutes, but now they have been able to reduce that time to 20 minutes. West Virginia American Water says they have four labs helping to do the testing.

Friday during a press conference, Adjutant General James Hoyer reported that testing showed the chemical at 1.7ppm in the water. The CDC reports that 1ppm is safe for use. During Saturday's press conference officials would not release an updated number. Jeffery McIntyre, President of WVAW said, "We have insufficient results to form conclusions at this time."

Officials say crews are also testing water samples along the Ohio River, but say that by the time the chemical would travel from the Elk River to the Kanawha River to the Ohio River, the chemical would dilute and they do not foresee expanding the do not use order.

McIntyre said the best plan of action is to flush the system once the chemical has diluted to 1ppm. They are not releasing an exact estimate as to when they will happen. However, they do say this will likely be done in zones, rather than system wide. "We are talking days," McIntyre said.

The rain Saturday is expected to help with the flushing. And crews do not believe that the chemical is collecting in the pipes. They say a complete flush of the system will rid of the chemical.

During the press conference Saturday, McIntyre said the company plans to give credits to affected residential customers for 1,000 gallons of water.

Rahul Gupta with the Charleston-Kanawha Health Department spoke during the press conference, saying they are working on a plan to allow businesses in the area to reopen. The businesses must explain how they are gong to be able to provide portable water before reopening. That plan must be approved by the health department.

The DHHR updated hospital numbers Saturday. They say they have been told that 73 people have shown up at the emergency room to be treated for symptoms from the chemical leak. Five people have been admitted to two hospitals to be observed.

Officials say they 1.4 million liters of water has been brought to West Virginia and another 800,000 liters will arrive Saturday, along with another 800,000 liters Sunday.

Another press conference is scheduled for 9 p.m. Saturday evening.

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