Infographic: West Virginia Chemical Spill Spreads to Ohio River

Spill shut down drinking water for 300,000 people.

West Virginia Chemical Spill

Infographic by Codi Kozacek/ Circle of Blue ; Source: Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission
The chemical spill plume moved from West Virginia’s Elk River to the Kanawha River and eventually into the Ohio River. Click image to enlarge

On January 9,2014 a chemical storage tank on the bank of West Virginia’s Elk River leaked approximately 10,000 gallons of 4-methyl-cyclohexane-methanol (MCHM), a chemical used to process coal, into the river just 1.5 miles upstream of the drinking water intake for 300,000 people in Charleston, the state capital. Residents were warned not to use their tap water for any purpose, and many were afraid to drink it for months after the incident.

The spill elevated to public attention a pattern of disregard, weak oversight, even neglect by West Virginia and federal regulators charged by law to oversee storage of toxic chemicals, and to safeguard the environment and public health. A Circle of Blue investigation found that not only was a harmful chemical stored haphazardly near a major drinking water source, scant information was available to regulators, public health officials, and citizens about the chemical’s effects on people and aquatic species.

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