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Hundreds Complain of Symptoms in West Virginia Chemical Spill

Hundreds of people in West Virginia have complained of symptoms after a chemical spill contaminated the water supply for nine counties, but fewer than 10 have been hospitalized, officials said.

By early evening Friday, the state's poison control center had logged 670 calls since the massive leak sparked a tap-water ban for 300,000 — and the reports were still pouring in, said the director, Dr. Elizabeth Scharman.

Many of those were from people experiencing nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, skin irritation or rashes. "It's varying degrees of severity," she said.

The center recommended that only a few callers go to the emergency room because most of the symptoms can be treated at home.

At least 70 people showed up at hospitals, though the vast majority of them didn't require emergency treatment, Scharman said. Up to 10 people have been hospitalized.

The West Virginia American Water Co. announced Thursday that its water supply had become contaminated, after a leak from a Freedom Industries storage tank about a mile upstream on the Elk River sent a strange licorice-like smell wafting through the streets in Charleston, the capital.

West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency in Boone, Cabell, Clay, Jackson, Kanawha, Lincoln, Logan, Putnam and Roane counties after the spill.

"If you live in one of these areas, do not use tap water for drinking, cooking, cleaning, washing, or bathing. At this time, I do not know how long this will last," Tomblin said Friday.

"If you are low on bottled water, do not panic. Help is on the way."

NBC affiliate WSAZ said the leaked product is 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, which is used in the froth flotation process of coal washing and preparation.