It almost sounds like the plot line of a low-budget B-grade movie – a large section of a state…lets say 9 counties…suddenly looses all access to clean water. No drinking, bathing, washing dishes, doing the laundry. If fact the only safe thing to do with this water is flush the toilet. How would you cope? What would you do? Do you have any emergency drinking water at home?
Well that is exactly what happened for over 300,000 West Virginia residents. On January 9 they discovered that their water supply was contaminated with an industrial chemical that made the water smell like licorice. The chemical, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, or Crude MCHM leaked into the Elk river on Thursday (January 9).
And this isn’t a “little leak” – as much as 5,000 gallons (18,927 liters) spilled into the Elk River near the state capital of Charleston.
The state governor declared a state of emergency for nine counties on Friday, and President Barack Obama immediately issued an emergency declaration that kicks FEMA into gear. The spill forced schools and businesses to close in Charleston, West Virginia’s largest city.
West Virginia American Water Co, which runs the state’s largest water treatment plant isn’t sure when the water will be safe to use. Water carrying this chemical has an odor like licorice or anise and though not “highly lethal” the level that could be considered safe has yet to be quantified.
The spill came from a tank belonging to Freedom Industries – a Charleston company that produces specialty chemicals for the mining, steel and cement industries – upriver from a plant run by West Virginia American Water.
According to a letter from the Department of Environmental Protection to Freedom Industries, officials had “discovered that no spill containment measures had been initiated and that an accumulating MCHM leak pool was seeping thru a dike wall adjacent to the Elk River and a downriver oil sheen was observed.”
Emergency workers and American Water have been distributing water to centers around the affected area. Residents formed long lines at stores and quickly depleted inventories of bottled water.
This is a great narrative for your next company exercise. How would your company cope if you were kicked out of your facility and employees became obsessed with finding water? Interesting narrative!
When things like this happen, it is a good reminder to ask yourself – what would I do and how would I cope if this happen in my town?