Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin calls for supply drive in Charleston - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin calls for supply drive in Charleston in response to chemical leak

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During a 2 p.m. news conference Jan. 10, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin urged West Virginians to bring supplies to Kanawha Boulevard to help residents who were left without water after a Jan. 9 chemical spill in the Elk River.

More than 100,000 homes were left without water service in nine southern West Virginia counties.

The governor told media he couldn't say why the leak wasn't detected sooner, but the DEP outlined a timeline of the Jan. 9 incidents, despite not being sure what time the leak started.

Tomblin reminded residents to follow WV American Water Company's "Do Not Use" order. He said residents living in the affected areas should continue to abstain from using the water.

Organizations wishing to donate supplies are asked to contact their local emergency management offices. Tomblin asked for donations of water, sanitizer, wipes, formula, paper plates, plastic utensils, microwaveable meals and other supplies.

The drive for these supplies will take place on Kanawha Boulevard at the Capitol complex in Charleston Friday from 2:30-6:30 p.m., the governor said.

"It is important to emphasize that water and supplies are available and there is not a persistent shortage of bottled water," Tomblin said. "We're taking every measure to provide water to you."

Tomblin said those helping include the West Virginia Office of Emergency Management, DEP experts and the DHHR. He said members of the National Guard are offering health and wellness checks and collecting, monitoring the water.

"This discharge of pollutants is unacceptable," Tomblin said. "I've mobilized and deployed all appropriate government assets and resources."

President Barack Obama approved the governor's request to provide federal resources.

The DEP began getting complaints at about 8:15 a.m. Jan. 9, then its inspectors moved up the river until they found the source just after 11 a.m.

DEP officials said Freedom Industries is not subject to industrial reporting requirements, and the department still doesn't have a good picture of how much is still in the river.

Tomblin urged that there is no shortage of bottled water and West Virginia American Water is not shutting off any water service in case of fire or other emergency.

"There is no shortage of bottled water," he said. "Supplies are moving into the area as we speak. We are encouraging all West Virginians to contact their local emergency management officials for water distribution."

Tomblin said until an "all clear" is given, officials will focus on helping the most vulnerable populations.

"I have asked the Department of Health and Human Resources Bureau of Public Health, Senior Services and the National Guard to develop long-term plan to be sure adequate supplies are available," he said.

Officials say tests so far seem to show a reduction in the level of the chemical in the water, but said Freedom Industries had not been invited to the media conference. Tomblin said he had not heard from the company.

Mike Dorsey, chief of emergency response and homeland security for DEP, said worst-case scenario is 2-5,000 gallons of the chemical 4-methylcyclohexane leaked. He said the tank holds anywhere from 4-7,00 gallons at a time.

"A lot of that has gotten into the rubble on the river banks," he said. "It was not a catastrophic failure of tank or containment -- both had a failure."

He said their was a leak in both the retaining wall and tank, but they did not "fail completely."

Dorsey said Freedom has been "open with (them) and become more open with (them) as time goes on."

Dorsey said he doesn't believe the facility violated any current laws in place. He said they might not be subject to industrial reporting requirements, but they are looking into it.

According to DEP the chemical is a "moderately solvent pollutant" and rapidly disappears and dilutes in water.

Major General James A. Hoyer with the West Virginia National Guard said the team put together by Tomblin worked throughout the night to "build a set of protocols to monitor this chemical in the system."

Hoyer said determining if the water is contaminated takes about 46 minutes to run.

A base-line history of just how much of the chemical was in the water will be available due to the process of the tests, Hoyer said.

The governor said part of his plans for the state included putting together a team of officials to better respond to an emergency such as this one. That team includes members of the West Virginia National Guard, Office of Environmental Service, Bureau of Public Help and Department of Environmental Protection as well as experts from Dupont and West Virginia American Water officials.