At least 300,000 West Virginia residents are still without water after a major chemical spill last week, and officials still have no estimate as to when tap water will be safe to use again. Nine counties of the state are still under a state of emergency, and despite Governor Earl Ray Tomblin telling reporters, "I believe that we are at a point where we can say that we see light at the end of the tunnel," there is still no clear date for when then situation will be fixed.
Contamination levels dropped substantially over the weekend:
…enabling the West Virginia American Water Co. to begin flushing out the contaminated pipes. The entire process will take a number of days and will occur in stages, starting in Charleston and working outward to the remote areas of the distribution system.
There are still a number of worrying parts of this situation though. Most importantly, there are no clear guidelines for how to deal with the chemical central to the incident, methylcyclohexane. A 2011 Material Safety Data Sheet—MSDSs are required by federal law to be available to emergency personnel—standard lists no information for exposure guidelines, decomposition, or ecological information. In other words, there is no clear data on how to treat anyone exposed, how the chemical breaks down, or what effect it has on the environment. That sounds encouraging.
The Charleston Gazette reported on Sunday, "State officials continued to decline to give out much information about exactly how residents should flush out their home systems once the water company's distribution system is deemed clear."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.