Nightly News   |  January 12, 2014

West Virginia’s Water Woes Have No End in Sight

Could the chemical leak that contaminated the water supply have been prevented? NBC News’ Luke Russert reports.

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>>> contaminating the city's water supply ten days ago. at least three people are hospitalized. it turns out that the leak is much bigger than was originally thought. and questions as to whether the company involved did enough to prevent it. luke russ certify in charleston for us tonight. luke?

>> reporter: good evening, lester. the quality of the water is moving in the right direction, but the ban remains in effect, wreaking havoc for thousands of west virginians just ahead of the start of the workweek. no access to clean tap water and patience is running low.

>> one day i had to go home and just cry.

>> reporter: 300,000 residents in and around the capital city , this is the way of life . distribution stations to fill up on water that's safe to use at home.

>> no water will be given to lift or change what is currently in place until we are at the appropriate levels.

>> reporter: no bathing, drinking or cooking with the water, as experts test contamination levels. the chemical spill last week at freedom industries entered the elk river through a one-inch hole in the holding tank's wall and flowed downstream to the west virginia american water company. we now know that 7,500 gallons spilled into the river, about 2,500 more than previously estimated. tomorrow an independent federal agency will begin looking into the spill. they will attempt to find out how a leak of this magnitude could have occurred. what is freedom industries aware of the problems in its storage facility? and were the proper safeguards in place? dr. raul gupta, the county health officer, says the long-term effects are still unknown.

>> it's an industrial chemical . so not a lot of human testing is done. we do not know the impact. that's something i'm sure will be studied over the years to come.

>> reporter: schools are expected to remain closed on monday, as well as many local businesses, as many as 1,000 people have called the poison center to report exposure symptoms, which is vomiting, nausea and skin irritation.

>> there would be a plan, especially being in west virginia with all the chemical plants.

>> reporter: when the water company is ready to flush the chemical water out of the lines, it needs to be able to pump clean water continually back in, and that process can take several more days. now, lester, we found out today that freedom industries, the company that's responsible for the leak, they reported the leak to local officials hours after it happened. under west virginia law, that's usually supposed to be done within 15 minutes . that's just one of many things investigators will look at over the next few days.