CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- West Virginia American Water held a press conference Friday morning saying a water use ban will remain in effect indefinitely in parts of 9 counties after a chemical leak in Charleston.
West Virginia American Water President Jeffrey McIntyre says at this point, they can't say the water is unsafe to drink, but they also can't say the water is safe.
WVAW says they were notified about 12 p.m. Thursday by the West Virginia DEP about a leak at Freedom Industries on Barlow Drive.
During a press conference Friday morning, McIntyre said they were originally given incorrect information about what the chemical was.
They did not find out the correct chemical until around 2 p.m. and did not have detection in the water until 4 p.m. when they got a notification from WVDEP.
Late Thursday afternoon, West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin issued a State of Emergency for West Virginia American Water customers in parts of Kanawha, Cabell, Boone, Putnam, Lincoln, Logan, Clay, Roane and Jackson counties.
West Virginia American Water says Culloden water customers are the only ones affected by the water ban. No other Cabell County customers are affected.
West Virginia American Water says customers on Queen Shoals PSD, Lincoln PSD, City of Culloden PSD and Reamer Hill are also impacted by the advisory.
McIntyre says they were not notified by Freedom Industries that there was a leak. He says they knew there was a leak when they smelled it in the water treatment plant.
CW Sigman with the Kanawha County Emergency Services say they had to find the leak themselves.
WVAW says this is not a chemical that is normal in water treatment process. "It is not intended to be in water," McIntyre said.
At this time, WVAW does not believe the chemical continues to flow. They say there was a leak in a tank and the tank's contamination failed, so the chemical seeped into the soil.
At this point, they are not able to determine how much of the chemical was released.
WVAW says Freedom Industries is a private property and they do no have access to the property.
McIntyre says they spoke with a toxicologist who says the amount of the chemical that a person would need to be in contact with to cause harm is considerable.
However, they are not able to speculate how harmful the dilution will be. The toxicologist says they work with the chemical in its pure form and can't correlate how this will be in a diluted form.
McIntyre says the reason the order spread so far is that the water treatment plant takes water source from the Elk River and sends water to a total of 1,500 miles in the area.
When it comes to getting safe water to customers, McIntyre says they may be able to put customers back in by zones, but don't think they'll be able to do it all at once. There is still no timeline as to when this problem will be corrected.
When the water is corrected, West Virginia American Water says they will provide instructions for customers on what they need to do to move forward with their drinking water.
Mayor Danny Jones spoke at the press conference. He said this has been "devastating" to the communities impacted, from the hotels, hospitals and visitors bureau, who has been receiving calls about what to do is next.
Jones says they had hoped to come to the press conference and receive information on a timeline, but that information was not available.
Commission President Kent Carper says this type of order is unprecedented and was the right decision based on what they were told.
Carper says the "blame assignment" will take place in the orderly course of business.
"What we are doing now is the only thing local government can do,"
Carper said, including giving truthful answers.
Asking the public to remember that they are aware of this, take care of yourself and your family. In the event you may need help, call 911.
Commission Kent Carper says Kanawha County 911 received more than 1000 calls in a few hours after the leak was reported.
West Virginia American Water says they are not qualified to link the health issues that people have been reporting with the chemical leak.
United States Attorney Booth Goodwin today issued the following statement regarding yesterday’s release of a potentially dangerous chemical into the southern West Virginia water supply:
“Yesterday’s release of a potentially dangerous chemical into our water supply has put hundreds of thousands of West Virginians at risk, severely disrupted our region’s economy, and upended people’s daily lives. My office and other federal law enforcement authorities have opened an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the release. We will determine what caused it and take whatever action is appropriate based on the evidence we uncover.”
No word at this time when the next update will be.