A federal disaster declaration has been issued for a West Virginia chemical spill that may have contaminated tap water and prompted officials to order residents in nine counties not to bathe, brush their teeth, or wash their clothes. The declaration, made overnight, allows for direct federal assistance in dealing with the spill, Bill Hines of the Federal Emergency Management Agency said early today. It remained unclear how much of the chemical spilled into the river and at what concentration, or how long the advisory would last.
The federal move came shortly after Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency yesterday when the spill from Freedom Industries hit a river and a nearby water treatment plant. Customers of West Virginia American Water in the affected areas also got the order from Tomblin last night: Do not drink, bathe, cook, or wash clothes with tap water. The chemical, a foaming agent used in the coal preparation process, leaked from a tank at Freedom Industries, overran a containment area and went into the river earlier yesterday. According to a fact sheet, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol is harmful if swallowed and causes eye and skin irritation and could be harmful if inhaled, but is not lethal. Click for more. (Read more West Virginia stories.)