Criminal Justice

300,000 W.Va. residents told not to drink water after chemical leak; US opens criminal probe

Don’t drink the water. Don’t wash, rinse, cook or bathe with it, either.

That’s the message for some 300,000 West Virginians as the result of a Thursday leak from a 48,000-gallon tank at a chemical storage facility near the Elk River. Federal and state officials have already opened investigations into the cause of the spill, according to the Wall Street Journal and CNN. One of those officials was Booth Goodwin, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia, who announced Friday that he would launch a criminal probe. Besides Goodwin, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, as well as state agencies such as the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, also opened their own investigations into the spill.

President Barack Obama has issued a federal disaster declaration for the state. West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, meanwhile, warned that the cleanup process could take days as thousands of miles of water pipes will have to be cleaned. According to the Wall Street Journal, authorities have identified the chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, which is used to wash coal, as the contaminant.

Jeff McIntyre, the president of West Virginia American Water Co., which provides water from the Elk River to customers in the central and southwestern areas of the state, said that he could not vouch for the safety of the tainted water and recommended against using it for anything other than flushing the toilet. “We don’t know that the water is not safe, but I can’t say it is safe,” McIntyre said to the Wall Street Journal. He also would not put a timetable on when the water could be consumed again. According to a company spokeswoman, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol contains “some health risk,” CNN reported.

The spill has resulted in school and business closures throughout the city. “This has been devastating to the public at large and to the people that live in our city,” said Charleston Mayor Danny Jones.

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