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Officials Say Numbers Trending Right Direction On Water Crisis; No Timetable Given On Restoration

Reported: Jan. 11, 2014 3:59 PM EST
Updated: Jan. 13, 2014 4:12 AM EST

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin thanked West Virginians Saturday for their patience in dealing with the water crisis.

While no specific timetable was given, Tomblin said things are trending in the right direction to restore service to West Virginia American Water customers.

Tomblin said the state has made much progress in the past 51 hours, but it was not time to give an all clear to begin the process of flushing water systems, which could take several days.

No specific timetable was given on when flushing will begin.

Customers in Boone, Kanawha, Lincoln, Putnam, Jackson, Clay, Logan, and Roane counties are told not water is not to be for drinking, washing dishes, doing laundry, cleaning or bathing. Water should only be used for flushing toilets or for extinguishing fires.

Col. Greg Grant with the National Guard said readings of 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol in the water are now going below threshold of 1.0 part per million, the amount set by the Center For Disease Control as acceptable, but the readings were not consistently at that level, which is key to begin flushing.

“The numbers are turning in the right direction,” Grant said, though he added that there are still spikes of the chemical showing up in readings.

Major Gen. James A Hoyer with the National Guard said they hope to run more than 100 samples Sunday and will provide them to the water company and the governor.

Tomblin said the spill was unacceptable and must be cleaned up immediately.

Mike Dorsey with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection said Freedom Industries is the responsible party in the crisis and will be tasked with leading the clean-up of the spill site at the company’s location on the Elk River in Charleston.

West Virginia American Water President Jeff McIntyre said that when the time comes to begin flushing the system, customers will be notified on methods to safely clear out hot water tanks and indoor plumbing.

No word was given on the status of schools for the region for the next week.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jimmy Gianto said they are in touch with superintendents and announcements will be made Sunday.

Five people have been hospitalized and 73 have showed up at emergency rooms complaining of problems that may be linked to the licorice-smelling pollutant.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Heath Harrison, Bob Aaron) -- Officials with West Virginia American Water said at a news conference Saturday that it will take many days until water is useable in nine counties affected by a chemical spill at its Elk River treatment facility.

Mike Dorsey with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection said about 7,500 gallons of 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol leaked into the Elk River from a 35,000 gallon storage tank upstream from the treatment facility.

The DEP had previously estimated the worst case scenario to be a 5,000 gallon leak.

Dorsey said material has stopped leaking from the tank, but could still be leeching into the river from the soil.

West Virginia American Water President Jeff McIntyre said that the water plant must produce safe, consistent testing showing levels suitable for consumption before the system could be flushed and the do not use advisory could be lifted. Flushing of the system could take several days.

McIntyre said water customers unable to do anything but flush with their water will get a free 1,000 gallons of water knocked off their water bill.

The chemical is still showing too high of levels in the water at the water treatment plant on the Elk River, Mcintyre said.

Customers in Boone, Kanawha, Lincoln, Putnam, Jackson, Clay, Logan, and Roane counties are told not water is not to be for drinking, washing dishes, doing laundry, cleaning or bathing. Water should only be used for flushing toilets or for extinguishing fires.

Dorsey said he is confident the leak started Thursday because of the presence of a strong odor. He said the presence of the chemical's odor does not pose a health risk.

The DEP said a one inch hole in the storage tank created the water crisis. Dorsey said the chemical has made its way to the Ohio River, but claims it is so diluted, it does not pose a health threat.

Kanawha-Charleston Health Department Executive Director Rahul Gupta said some restaurants affected have reopened after they submitted potable water plans to the health department.

The next press conference on the situation is scheduled for 9 p.m. Saturday.

Help and supplies continued to pour into West Virginia. Emergency officials said 800,000 liters of water came into the state Saturday and more was on the way. Many businesses continue to truck in needed supplies to keep store shelves stocked.

Five people have been hospitalized and 73 have showed up at emergency rooms complaining of problems that may be linked to the licorice-smelling pollutant.

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