Nightly News   |  January 10, 2014

Feds to Investigate W.V. Chemical Spill

Charleston, W.V., residents are awaiting word as to when their water will be safe again after a chemical spill contaminated the Elk River.

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>>> may have contaminated the drinking water . a federal investigation has been launched into how this happened. our chief veteran affairs correspondent anne thompson has more.

>> reporter: good evening, brian, tonight the state has ordered the company believed to be responsible for this chemical spill to cease and desist and to inspect all of its tanks. meanwhile, fema is on its way here to charleston to help to deliver water to residents who can no longer turn on the tap . they brought every type of container they could find, jugs, bins and bottles to fill up as people of west virginia learned just how precious clean water is.

>> i understand boiling water , not to be able to drink it, but not put it on your body is outrageous.

>> reporter: in this home, she puts socks on the faucets to remind her three children not to use the water. everyone is drinking bottled water . even the dogs and pet mouse . but with no idea when the water will be usable again, taylor stocked the van with bottled water and hand cleaner for the ride to her sister's, where the water is safe. the source of the problem that has closed restaurants and schools is this chemical that is used in coal processing. it is an oily substance that some say smells like licorice, leaking at the storage facility on the elk river . about a mile down river is the west virginia american water company which supplies nine counties and some 300,000 people whose health may now be at risk.

>> if you get it on your skin, you get a skin rash , if you breathe it or drink it, especially drink it, it will irritate your nose and throat.

>> reporter: the head of the water company said the news of the leak came from the state, not the industries.

>> they did not report this to us, and i have no idea if they reported it to anybody else.

>> reporter: freedom industry says the first priorities were safety containment and cleanup. meanwhile, the government worked to head off any potential panic.

>> it is important to emphasize that water and supplies are available and there is not a persistent shortage of bottled water .

>> reporter: as folks here wait for word their water is safe again, surrounding counties are opening fire hydrants to help out their neighbors. now, tonight, officials continue to test the water as they try to determine the extent of the health risk and also how long the water ban will be in place. brian?

>> anne thompson , charleston, west virginia