UPDATE: Hundreds of thousands still waiting on water - WVVA TV Bluefield Beckley WV News, Weather and Sports

UPDATE: Hundreds of thousands still waiting on water

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - A company president apologized to West Virginia residents for a chemical leak into a public water treatment plant hours before a state agency ordered Freedom Industries to remove chemicals from its remaining above-ground tanks.

About 300,000 people entered their third day Saturday with no way to take showers and wash clothes. Officials remain unclear when it might be safe again.

Federal authorities began investigating how the foaming agent escaped the Freedom Industries plant and seeped into the Elk River. Just how much of the chemical leaked into the river was not yet known.

Freedom Industries President Gary Southern on Friday called the incident "extremely unfortunate." Hours later, a state agency ordered the company to remove its remaining chemicals off the site.

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CHARLESTON (WVVA) - Agencies are continuing to monitor the chemical leak that has affected the water supply of more than 300,000 West Virginia residents, leaving them without use of their tap water for a yet-to-be-determined period of time.

During a news conference Friday, Jeff McIntyre, president of West Virginia American Water, warned customers in nine West Virginia counties to not use the water until further notice. He says it is only safe for flushing the toilet.

McIntyre said there was no timeframe on when the issue would be resolved.

The spill happened after a foaming agent used by the coal industry -- identified as 4-methylcyclohexane methanol -- was released into the Elk River in Kanawha County from a tank at the Freedom Industries plant. A bulk tank container at the plant failed, leaking the chemical over land and into the river.

What is 4-methylcyclohexane methanol?

McIntyre said the water company was notified of the spill by the DEP Thursday, but he believes it occurred some time before that.

McIntyre says the water company was not contacted by Freedom Industries about the spill.

Freedom Industries released a statement shortly after the news conference, stating that they were working with multiple agencies on correcting the issue.

Hours later, one of those agencies -- the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection -- issued a cease operations order against the company.

In the release, the DEP states that an investigation was initiated after citizen complaints of objectionable odors in the area of Freedom Industries. At 11:10 a.m. Thursday the leak was discovered.

The release occurred approximately 1.5 miles upstream from the intake of the local water supply.

The affected counties are Kanawha, Putnam, Jackson, Clay, Lincoln, Logan, Roane and Boone counties, as well as customers in the area of Culloden in Cabell County.

MORE: Much of capital city shut down

No alerts have been issued for West Virginia American Water customers in other counties.

Boil water advisories were issued in Fayette and Raleigh counties following the spill, but these are unrelated to the situation in Charleston.

McIntyre said the water company has purchased four tractor-trailers full of water to distribute to affected customers.

Twelve tanker trucks from Pennsylvania American Water are also headed to the region.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin issued a state of emergency in the nine affected counties Thursday evening. President Obama followed suit Friday, declaring a federal emergency, which allows the counties to have direct assistance from federal agencies.

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WASHINGTON (WVVA) - President Obama has signed a federal emergency disaster declaration for the nine West Virginia counties whose water supplies may have been affected by a chemical spill.

The White House announced the declaration in a news release Friday morning.

The declaration made overnight allows for direct federal assistance in dealing with the spill.

Thursday's spill of a chemical agent into the Elk River in Charleston prompted officials to to tell residents in Boone, Cabell, Clay, Jackson, Kanawha, Lincoln, Logan, Putnam, and Roane counties not to bathe, brush their teeth or wash their clothes.

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CHARLESTON (WVVA) -- West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin issued a State of Emergency for nine counties Thursday evening after a chemical spilled into the Elk River in Charleston, contaminating water supplies.

The Emergency was issued for Boone, Cabell, Clay, Jackson, Kanawha, Lincoln, Logan, Putnam, and Roane counties.

This declaration followed a notice from West Virginia American Water Company that its water supply had become contaminated. Residents served by Lincoln PSD, Queen Shoals PSD, Reamer PSD, City of Culloden PSD, and City of Hurricane PSD are also affected.

"West Virginians in the affected service areas are urged NOT to use tap water for drinking, cooking, washing or bathing,"  Tomblin said in a news release. "Right now, our priorities are our hospitals, nursing homes, and schools. I've been working with our National Guard and Office of Emergency Services in an effort to provide water and supplies through the county emergency services offices as quickly as possible."

According to an earlier Associated Press report, the chemical leaked from a tank at Freedom Industries and overran a containment area. The amount that spilled wasn't immediately known.

Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Tom Aluise told the AP that the chemical is used in the coal preparation process and isn't toxic.

Kanawha County Deputy Emergency Manager C.W. Sigman says the chemical gave off a strong licorice smell.

West Virginia American Water spokeswoman Laura Jordan told the AP earlier Thursday that the chemical would be removed at a nearby water treatment plant and posed no threat to customers.

Freedom Industries provides specialty chemicals for the mining, cement and steel industries. A woman who answered the phone at the company said no one was available for comment Thursday, according to the AP report.


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