Edited time: January 11, 2014 03:57
Hundreds have reported sickness, businesses have closed and bottled-water supply is low after a chemical spill into the Elk River in West Virginia that has affected 300,000 people in nine counties. The White House declared the incident a federal disaster.
Residents of the nine affected counties have been told to avoid using tap water for drinking, cooking, washing or bathing. Health officials recommend it to be used only for flushing toilets and fighting fires. Currently it is unclear when the ban will be lifted.
Nearly 700 people have reported falling ill, exhibiting symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, though less than 10 people have been hospitalized, according to NBC News.
US President Barack Obama “ordered federal aid to supplement state and local response efforts,” said a US administration statement on Friday morning.
Federal authorities opened an investigation into what caused the leak that poisoned the river and shut down much of the West Virginia’s capital, Charleston and surrounding counties. US Attorney Booth Goodwin said authorities will take whatever action is appropriate based on the evidence found, reports the Associated Press.
In response to the crisis, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Water and Waste Management ordered Freedom Industries to cease operations Friday afternoon. State environmental officials also ordered the company late Friday to remove chemicals from the 14 above-ground storage tanks where the leak contaminated the area’s water supply within 24 hours, the AP reported. The chemicals are to be stored in a place with a working containment system, authorities said. The company is also required to offer a plan on how to clean up contaminated soil and groundwater.
The Division of Air Quality launched an investigation Thursday morning to address residents’ complaints, and found that MCHM was discharging into the air. Crews also noticed that an MCHM spill had pooled in containment ditches in the plant, which is also located near a river.