Final drinking water ban lifted in West Virginia

Reuters
From left, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, and Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va. confer on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, prior to testifying before the Senate subcommittee on Water and Wildlife hearing to examine the safety and security of drinking water supplies following the Central West Virginia drinking water crisis. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)
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From left, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, and Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va. confer on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, prior to testifying before the Senate subcommittee on Water and Wildlife hearing to examine the safety and security of drinking water supplies following the Central West Virginia drinking water crisis. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)

By Kevin Murphy

(Reuters) - West Virginia authorities on Saturday completely lifted a 10-day-old ban on the use of tap water that was imposed after a chemical spill contaminated drinking water, but they advised pregnant women to continue using alternative water sources.

The final 2 percent of the 300,000 customers affected by the spill have now been cleared to drink and wash from their tap, said West Virginia American Water spokeswoman Laura Jordan.

However, out of an "abundance of caution," the water utility advised pregnant women to consider an alternative drinking water source "until the chemical is non-detectable in the water distribution system."

Crews have been flushing out the water system around the capital of Charleston since January 9, when a chemical used to process coal leaked from a massive storage container into the Elk River, the main water source in the region.

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency and local officials issued a do-not-use advisory until testing showed levels below the 1 part per million level safety standard set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

An investigation into the spill is under way and water sampling is ongoing, Jordan said.

"This is a good first step," she said.

Freedom Industries, the chemical company responsible for the leak, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Friday, after vendors demanded that it pay in cash, straining its finances. The filing would also help protect the company's assets, shielding it from lawsuits while allowing it to remain in business.

The Freedom Industries site has not been inspected since 1991 and is about a mile upstream from a West Virginia American Water plant, the biggest in the state.

The company has apologized for the spill and is conducting its own investigation into the cause of the leak.

More than 200 people reported nausea and other symptoms linked to the tainted water supply, medical officials said.

(Reporting by Kevin Murphy; Editing by Victoria Cavaliere and Steve Orlofsky)

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