West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin urged residents “to continue to be patient” as authorities gradually restored service to the 300,000 people affected by an industrial chemical spill that tainted the water supply in the state capitol and nine surrounding counties.
On his Twitter account, Tomblin announced that the water ban for downtown Charleston – or “Zone 1,” as authorities are calling it – had been lifted late Monday morning. As officials began removing water bans for various zones in the state, they instructed residents and businesses to flush their water lines before using their tap water.
“The ban is being lifted in a strict, methodical manner to help ensure the water system is not overwhelmed by excessive demand, thereby causing more water-quality and service issues,” West Virginia American Water said in a news release. “Zones have been established based on the flow of water from the treatment plant through the system.”
During a midday press conference, officials explained that hospitals began the flushing process Monday morning, and that West Virginia American Water will lift water bans for affected residents over the next few days, zone by zone.
The water company has created an interactive map on its website – searchable by address – indicating the status of the water ban. The water company also said it has established a hotline “for the exclusive purpose of helping customers in border areas gain clarification or for those who do not have Internet access.”
“Only customers located within the zones that have been lifted should begin flushing,” the water company said. “Please do not begin flushing until your zone is lifted, nor flush beyond the necessary 20 minutes and put additional strain on the water system.”
The water company said it has been working with the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to test the water supply after Thursday’s discovery that a chemical had leaked from a storage facility on the Elk River and seeped into a water-treatment plant. The chemical – 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol, or crude MCHM – is used to process coal at a Freedom Industries manufacturing facility in Charleston.
On Monday, West Virginia American Water said that “extensive testing has produced results showing that levels of MCHM are below one part per million (1 ppm).” The water company added that EPA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “do not anticipate any health effects from these levels.”
Officials noted that affected residents in lifted zones still might detect a slight odor, but test results indicate that MCHM levels in those zones do not pose a health risk.
To offset the cost of the water used in the flushing process, West Virginia American Water said it is offering residential customers a credit of 1,000 gallons, “which is more than will what likely be required to flush the average home.”