Initial reports by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR) have found that the Kanawha County chemical spill appeared to have a minimal impact on the area’s fish. The spill, which originated in the West Virginia capital of Charleston, affected as many as 300,000 residents after it was discovered last Thursday. According to Fox News, roughly 7,500 gallons of the compound 4-methycyclohexane methanol was leaked into the Elk River from a storage tank owned by Freedom Industries, a chemical production company. The chemical, which residents complained of smelling like black licorice, is harmful to humans and can cause nausea, vomiting, skin irritation, and shortness of breath. While it is not considered to be deadly, people living in the area were advised to not drink or shower with the water, although it may be used for flushing toilets.
Despite these warnings, the chemical does not seem to be harming the fish in the Elk River. Shortly after the spill was discovered, biologists with the DNR sent to investigate found little evidence of the chemical’s impact on fish.
“I showed up at dawn this morning in Charleston and looked around the site of the plant,” DNR Fisheries Biologist Jeff Hansbarger told West Virginia MetroNews. “I hit that place all the way down to the mouth and haven’t seen one dead fish.”
Hansbarger believes since the chemical floats along the surface, it will have little effect on the trout, walleye, and bass that lurk in deeper waters.
“That could maybe lend itself to not being quite as harmful for the fish anyway,” he said.
The chemical, also known as MCHM, is highly soluble in water. While this means it cannot be easily filtered from the Elk River, experts say it can be quickly diluted to a point where the water will be safe. Governor Earl Tomblin made an announcement on Monday ending the five-day “do not use” order. Officials say the water is now safe to use, although it may still contain an odor.
In the aftermath of the spill, President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in West Virginia and directed FEMA to provide emergency services. The company behind the spill, Freedom Industries, has stated it will work toward removing any remaining MCHM from its Charleston facility. According to the company’s website, the Charleston plant contains 4,000,000 gallons of storage capacity.
Image courtesy Craig Stihler/West Virginia Division of Natural Resources