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January 10, 2014

Coal Chemical Spill Contaminates Water for 300,000 West Virginians

Don't drink the waterOn Thursday night, a chemical spill on the Elk River in West Virginia, just two miles above the Elk River water treatment plant near Charleston, contaminated drinking water for more than 300,000 residents in central and southern West Virginia. Residents in nine counties have been advised not to use the water for any purpose other than flushing.

The spill, which occurred at a Freedom Industries storage facility, involved a 48,000 gallon tank of a chemical used to treat coal before it's sent off to be burned at coal-fired power plants. The chemical, called 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, may seriously impact the health and safety of local residents with symptoms including vomiting, skin blistering and burns in the throat.

Our thoughts are with the more than 300,000 people in West Virginia affected by this toxic chemical spill, upstream from the largest drinking water source in West Virginia.

Officials have no timeline for when the water will be back to normal, and federal authorities announced Friday afternoon that they would be investigating what caused the leak.

According to Appalachian Voices, Freedom Industries did not self-report the spill, and we encourage everyone to follow the local news media and local grassroots organizations in the area for the best updates.

We recommended supporting and following these local groups as this tragedy unfolds: Keeper of the Mountains, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC on Twitter), the West Virginia Rivers Coalition (WVRC on Facebook), Coal River Mountain Watch, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, and Sierra Club West Virginia. For news and technical updates, both West Virginia Public Broadcasting (on Twitter here) and Downstream Strategies are excellent resources.

Coal mining communities are faced with the dangers of water pollution from coal mining and pollution every day. This spill pulls the curtain back on the coal industry's widespread and risky use of dangerous chemicals, and is an important reminder that coal-related pollution poses a serious danger to nearby communities. Americans, and the people of West Virginia, deserve greater accountability and transparency about coal industry practices.

-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director

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