After an estimated 300,000 West Virginians spent the weekend without tap water, following a massive chemical spill in the Elk River, officials say tests show life may return to normal soon — without specifying exactly when.
“I believe that we’re at a point where we can say that we see light at the end of the tunnel,” West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin told a group of reporters on Sunday.
Late last week, residents in the nine affected counties rushed to grocery stories, where shelves of bottled water were emptied out by frantic shoppers, after both the governor and federal officials declared a state of emergency and imposed a tap water ban. Reports surfaced over the weekend of West Virginians hopping in the car and driving out of affected areas for a hot shower and safe meal.
Jeff McIntyre, president of West Virginia American Water, said he was optimistic that the ban would be lifted soon.
“I don’t believe we’re several days from starting to lift, but I’m not saying today,” told McIntyre.
On Thursday, state officials announced that approximately 7,500 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, a chemical used to process coal, had leaked from a storage tank into the Elk River, just one mile from the West Virginia American Water plant.
Environmentalists have long chided West Virginia’s lax industrial regulations, which activists claim are a result of the enormous sway companies working in coal-related industries have in the state.