Reports of a licorice smell in the air on Jan. 9, 2014 was the first hint that something might be wrong in Charleston, W.Va. When personnel from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and the state’s Emergency Operations Center investigated, they discovered a chemical spill in the Elk River that runs through the Kanawha River valley. The leak, which originated from a 48,000-gallon tank at the Freedom Industries chemical storage facility, contaminated the Kanawha Valley water system used by West Virginia American Water, which supplies water to the area. The chemical, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, is used to wash coal and is harmful if swallowed.
The spill impacted as many as 300,000 people in Kanawha, Boone, Putnam, Lincoln, Logan, Clay, Roane and Jackson counties, who were warned for several days not to use tap water by West Virginia American Water.
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