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West Virginia chemical spill prompts state of emergency, water ban in 9 counties

West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency Thursday in several counties because of a chemical spill into the Elk River.

The advisory was expanded at night to nine counties. The state of emergency includes West Virginia American Water customers in Boone, Cabell, Clay, Jackson, Kanawha, Lincoln, Logan, Putnam, and Roane counties.

The advisory follows a notice from the West Virginia American Water Company that its water supply had become contaminated.

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Potomac River, Virginia.
UniversalImagesGroup | Universal Images Group | Getty Images
Potomac River, Virginia.

Residents were told not to drink the water, bathe in it or cook with the water and only use it for flushing and fire emergencies. Boiling it will not remove the chemicals.

"Right now, our priorities are our hospitals, nursing homes, and schools," Tomblin said in a statement. "I've been working with our National Guard and Office of Emergency Services in an effort to provide water and supplies through the county emergency services offices as quickly as possible."

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NBC affiliate WSAZ said the chemical leaked from a tank at Freedom Industries in Charleston. The leaked product is 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, which is used in the froth flotation process of coal washing and preparation, according to WSAZ.

Schools will be closed Friday in some of the affected counties.

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West Virginia American Water did not provide a timeline for the clean-up process, said Jennifer Sayre, a spokeswoman for the Kanawha County Manager.

Sayre urged residents not to panic and rush out to grocery stores to purchase bottled water, as local officials were working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to open water distribution centers.

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Kanawha resident Mark Adkins told NBC News he thought local authorities gave the community plenty of time to prepare.

"We got plenty of bottled water," he said.

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources told WSAZ symptoms include: severe burning in throat, severe eye irritation, non-stop vomiting, trouble breathing or severe skin irritation such as skin blistering.

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