End in Sight for W.Va. Water Ban, Officials Say

Days after a chemical spill, governor sees 'light at the end of the tunnel.'

West Virginia American Water customers line up for water Jan. 10, 2014. A chemical spill into the Elk River 'overwhelmed' one of the company's plants on Thursday, forcing officials to institute a water ban in nine counties, affecting about 300,000 people.
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Hundreds of thousands of West Virginia residents who have gone days without water following a chemical spill last week may once again be able to turn on the taps.

"I believe that we're at a point where we can say that we see light at the end of the tunnel," Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin told reporters Sunday, news sources said.

Officials instituted water bans in nine West Virginia counties Thursday, after it was discovered that a chemical used to process coal had leaked from a storage tank into the Elk River, just one mile from a water plant operated by West Virginia American Water.

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About 300,000 people were told to not to use the water for anything other than flushing the toilet. It is believed that roughly 7,500 gallons of the substance – 4-methylcyclohexane methanol – leaked from a ruptured storage tank into the river.

Tomblin declined to offer a timeline for when the ban might be lifted, but officials said that tests were showing that chemical levels at the water plant were below one part per million – the cutoff point for testing water elsewhere around the state.

"Things are looking right," Tomblin said. "They're trending in the right direction."

Federal emergency workers have been trucking water into the affected counties. Meanwhile, water customers were warned to be on the lookout for symptoms related to exposure to the chemical, which can cause skin irritation, wheezing, nausea or vomiting.

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Hospitals have treated 169 patients with similar symptoms since the spill, and 10 patients have been admitted, news sites reported.

The ruptured chemical tank was owned by Freedom Industries, a coal-mining products supplier.

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