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West Virginia chemical spill: end of water ban in sight, but questions linger (+video)

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(Read caption) A ban on tap water has been lifted in part of West Virginia that was hit by a chemical that spilled into a river and tainted the water supply. Officials are lifting the ban in a strict, methodical manner to help ensure the water system is not overwhelmed by excessive demand, which could cause more water quality and service issues. The water crisis started Thursday when the chemical used in coal processing leaked from a Freedom Industries plant into the nearby Elk River.
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Officials in West Virginia say that an end may be in sight to the water ban that has left 300,000 West Virginians without drinking, cleaning, and cooking water for five days.

“We see a light at the end of the tunnel,” Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) told reporters Sunday.

The West Virginia American Water Co. continued testing local drinking water throughout the weekend for 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, a chemical compound used to clean coal, which seeped from a holding tank at Freedom Industries into the Elk River on Thursday, contaminating local drinking water.

Officials have been waiting for concentrations to dissipate below 1 part per million before allowing residents to resume using the water for anything other than flushing. While weekend testing indicated that the concentration in four testing locations has dropped to a safe level, officials plan to continue testing throughout the distribution area Monday before giving residents the all clear.

The utility is expected to lift the ban gradually and will notify residents directly as the status for their zone changes. A website will be set up to help residents determine what zone they live in.

Residents will be instructed to flush potentially contaminated water from their pipes, hot water tanks, and the icemakers in their refrigerators.

“What we are trying to stress is that, as the plan unfolds, it is very important for people to adhere to that plan,” says Lawrence Messina, a spokesman for the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety.


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