For those just joining us: a chemical spill in the Elk River has tainted the water supply for all or part of nine counties around Charleston, WV, affecting around 250,000-300,000 people and thousands of businesses. Schools are closed, and officials are warning that the water is only safe for "flushing toilets and putting out fires."
Governor Tomblin's press conference, originally scheduled for 1:30, has just begun. I'll post updates as I get them.
Meanwhile, there's no clear indication when the emergency will end:
Water company officials still do not know how long it's going to take remove an unknown amount of a hazardous chemical that contaminated water for potentially 300,000 people.
West Virginia American Water President Jeff McIntyre said the company is still learning about the chemical and how to remove it from the 1,500 miles of pipeline that could be affected.
11:21 AM PT: Here's the current list of water distribution sites in the affected region. It's being regularly updated.
The chemical, 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol, is used as a foaming agent to separate coal from clay particles in the coal-cleaning process.
Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute, said the chemical is potentially most harmful in skin contact or inhalation.
"It will absorb through your skin," he said. "It will cause irritation to your skin or irritation to your lungs."
It's important to note that the smell of the chemical isn't harmful on its own -- the chemical itself must come into contact with the skin or lungs, or be ingested.
11:29 AM PT: Dept. of Environmental Protection says that the leak was a total of about 5,000 gallons, not all of which made it to the river. The Governor is continuing to urge people to abide by the water restrictions and not use their tap water for cooking, bathing, drinking, or anything other than flushing toilets.
11:43 AM PT: Disturbing comment from the DEP: they don't know what happens to the chemical when it contacts chlorine, which is used for water treatment. Mobile labs have been brought in to run tests.
11:45 AM PT: The good news, at least in the short run, is that there have only been 4-6 hospital admissions for symptomatic people so far. DHHR Secretary Karen Bowling says that there have been no serious or critical patients at this point.
11:49 AM PT: Press conference concluded. You can listen to further discussion of the event on 58 WCHS's live radio stream: http://player.originpull.cdn.liquidcompass.net/...
12:06 PM PT: The Governor has set up a donation drop-off site in front of the Capitol for people who have extra supplies. The site is on the Boulevard in front of the Capitol until 6:30 PM. Please note this is NOT a pickup or distribution locations, only a collection point.
12:21 PM PT: Here's the official update page from WV American Water. There's apparently a hoax spreading that's telling people WVAW is cutting off their water and they should fill a bathtub if they want to be able to flush their toilets. WVAW denies that any shutoffs are taking place (and would probably prefer that people not keep large amounts of contaminated water).
1:38 PM PT: The governor is asking for water, paper plates, cups, etc. - things that would need to be washed and the thing you'd wash 'em in if you had any - so they can be taken to different distribution locations. This is at the Capitol.
Del. Poore adds on Facebook: "If you are elderly, disabled or ill and cannot access water, please call the Emergency Operations Center at 304-746-8828 for assistance. Water will not be delivered to homes unless there is a serious illness."
4:02 PM PT: There's a need for drivers to help distribute water throughout the area. Since emergency services can't do it alone, Del. Poore and others are working to organize deliveries to seniors and those who can't get to distribution points. If you're in the area and can help, please call.
5:51 PM PT: Efforts to get water to seniors in the affected counties are still underway.