On Thursday, operators at a chemical storage facility located near the banks of West Virginia’s Elk River discovered a leak. Specifically they discovered that a special “detergent” used for washing coal had overflowed its holding area and washed right into the nearby river. By today, more than 200,000 people in the state had been told that their tap water could no longer be guaranteed safe.
The owner of the storage facility, Freedom Industries, said that it had not yet determined how much of the compound had seeped into the river. And state regulators and water experts said, equally frankly, that they weren’t really sure what to expect from the spill. “This is the first I’ve heard of this chemical,” the director of the West Virginia Water Institute told Salon.