CHARLESTON, W. Va. (CN) - Most of the 300,000 Charleston-area residents affected by the Jan. 9. spill of a carcinogenic coal-cleaning chemical into the Elk River are still buying bottled water to drink and cook, and some still refuse to use tap water for anything, including bathing or laundry.
About 10,000 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, or MCHM, spilled from storage tanks into the river from which Charleston and parts of eight counties draw their drinking water. Formaldehyde, another carcinogen, is known to have leaked into the drinking water supply as well.
At least three Charleston-area families chipped in to rent a small apartment in St. Albans, a small a Kanawha County town that has its own water supply. The families bathe their children and launder their clothing in the town of 11,000. Charleston is the seat of Kanawha County. Many of its families cannot afford to rent a second apartment to bathe, launder and drink water.
West Virginia ranks 49th among the state in median family income and per capita income. Its median per capita income of $34,609 is 19 percent below the national median of $42,693, according to citydata.com and federal statistics.
The price of bottled water has strained already tight family budgets. In the immediate aftermath of the fiasco, Kroger and some other grocery chains offered bottled water at cost, but the price has returned to pre-crisis levels, or higher.
The local health department, led by Dr. Rahul Gupta, has advised pregnant women and infants to continue to use bottled water.
Water distribution points have been set up, but they are few and far between. One in downtown Charleston that was to be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. had run out of water by 1 p.m.
The water shortage and erratic schedules make it hard for working residents to find time to get to the water distribution points.
People without vehicles and the elderly are the hardest hit. as they may not be able to get to a water distribution point at all.
Many residents feel snubbed by the White House and President Obama, as he has made little or no mention of the water crisis, but has instead spoken of his initiative to build more natural gas drilling stations.
Fracking for natural gas-injecting waste liquids into tock formation to force gas to the surface-is known to pollute groundwater. Ranchers in fracking territory in Wyoming have reported tap water burning.
West Virginia is a large producer of America's fossil fuels, including natural gas and coal.
Governor Earl Ray Tomblin said he will set up a multi-agency team to come up with a plan to test a representative sample of homes in the Charleston area for MCHM. This could demonstrate how home plumbing systems are handling the removal of MCHM.
Grandview Elementary school in North Charleston closed early this week due to chemical smells and two teachers reporting headaches. School was expected to resume tomorrow after another round of flushing. Freedom Industries, the company at the center of the catastrophe, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection less than two weeks into the disaster. At last 40 lawsuits have been filed against Freedom Industries, some of the including Eastman Chemicals as a defendant. Freedom was storing chemicals for Eastman
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