Members of the Nitro Volunteer Fire Department distribute water to local residents following the chemical spill, Jan. 10, 2014 in Charleston, W.V.
Michael Switzer/AP

Nearly 800 calls to W. Va. Poison Center after chemical spill

Nearly 800 people have reached out to West Virginia’s Poison Center after a massive chemical spill on Thursday left hundreds of thousands of residents without usable water.

Dr. Elizabeth Scharman, director of the poison center, said Saturday morning that the center has logged 787 human exposure calls, and that the complaints have varied in degrees of severity, according to NBC NewsThe majority of the callers reported symptoms of nausea, vomiting, diziness, headaches, and skin irritation. 

In addition to the calls, at least 91 people have visited emergency rooms with various symptoms, and five of those individuals have been admitted to the hospital.

The West Virginia American Water Company advised residents in nine affected counties not to use any running water. The Department of Homeland Security sent tractor-trailers carrying bottled water to West Virginia on Saturday. Officials said it could be several days before tap water would be safe to use. 

The spill – which originated at a Charleston, W.Va. facility operated by the chemical company Freedom Industries – has left approximately 300,000 residents without clean water. Local restaurants were informed Saturday they could only open their doors if they had access to an outside water source. 

“We’re moving into a phase of emergency, not only the contamination of the water, but also the health and nutrition and safety of individuals,” Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of the Kanawha Country Health Department, told the Charleston Gazette. “As well as the economic loss and the employment of several thousand individuals.”

Officials have no answers yet as to what caused the leak to occur. “It was an older tank that might have had a leak out of a rivet, and they don’t know how long or how much leaked,” Kanawha Country Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Dale Petry said at a press conference Friday.

The U.S. Attorney for southern West Virginia is looking into the cause of the spill. “Yesterday’s release of a potentially dangerous chemical into our water supply has put hundreds of thousands of West Virginians at risk, severely disrupted our region’s economy, and upended people’s daily lives,” U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said in a statement Friday. “My office and other federal law enforcement authorities have opened an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the release. We will determine what caused it and take whatever action is appropriate based on the evidence we uncover.”

Weekends with Alex Witt, 1/11/14, 9:23 AM ET

How WV residents are coping without tap water

Alex Witt talks to NBC’s Luke Russert about the chemical spill in West Virginia and how residents are coping with no tap water. 

Coal and West Virginia

Nearly 800 calls to W. Va. Poison Center after chemical spill