CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — For the fifth straight day, hundreds of thousands of people in West Virginia had to wash, cook and brush their teeth with bottled water, but officials promised the ban on tap water that was tainted by a chemical spill would soon be lifted.
Over the weekend, tests showed that levels of the licorice-smelling chemical used in coal processing were consistently below a toxic threshold, and in some samples, there was no trace of the chemical at all. As the tests were expected to continue Monday, there were still questions about how and why the leak occurred and whether the company, Freedom Industries, took too long to let state officials know about the problem.
An interagency group working to restore water service and to provide water to customers planned to meet Monday morning, said Amy Shuler Goodwin, spokeswoman for the governor. The group includes the water company, National Guard and state officials.
If tests continue to show the water is safe, the ban affecting about 300,000 people across a nine-county region will be lifted in waves for specific areas, the first of which would be in downtown Charleston, said West Virginia American Water President Jeff McIntyre. He gave no timetable for when people could start using the water again.
"I can tell you at this point, I don't believe we're several days from starting to lift (the ban), but I'm not saying today," McIntyre said at a news conference Sunday.
"We see light at the end of the tunnel," Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin told reporters.
The governor urged residents not to use the water for anything but flushing toilets. Some people have put plastic bags around faucets so that they will be reminded not to use the water while others have left town to take a shower and find an open restaurant.