It is now safe to drink the water in nine West Virginia counties after an at least 7500 gallon chemical spill into the Elk River caused unsafe conditions for residents to use water.
The do not use order was for residents to not shower, brush teeth, bathe, drink or use the water for anything other than flushing toilets. The water ban affected an estimated 300,000 residents around Charleston, WV.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said they were lifting the “do not use” order in zones after extensive testing deemed the water safe to drink.
West Virginia’s water woes began Thursday when thousands of gallons of a licorice-smelling chemical used to process coal leaked into the Elk River, prompting the West Virginia American Water Company to issue a “do not use” order.
The chemical, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, a foaming agent used in the coal preparation process, leaked from a tank at Freedom Industries, overran a containment area and went into the Elk River earlier Thursday.
Officials said they were lifting the ban in a “strict, methodical manner” to ensure the water system does not end up overwhelmed with demand. The water company, West Virginia American Water, is advising customers to flush out their pipes before using tap water again.
Over the weekend, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) handed out more than 2 million liters of fresh water, while residents said grocery store shelves remained stocked with bottles of water for purchase.
The licorice smell has been lingering around town, even inside McCormick’s apartment since Thursday, he said.
“It’s not a bad smell. It doesn’t stink. In certain parts of downtown right by the river, you can really smell it,” he said. “I could smell it in my apartment Thursday night and Friday just from flushing the toilet.”
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board said it has sent an investigative team to the site of the spill to determine a cause.