The 300,000 West Virginians, who are struggling with a chemical spill that contaminated their water system, will have to wait for several days before they will be able to resume using tap water for bathing or drinking.
As much as 5,000 gallons of 4-Methylcyclohexane Methano, a chemical used in the coal industry, seeped into the Elk River on Thursday, forcing the closure of one of the state's largest water supplies, and bringing homes, schools and businesses to a standstill.
Elk River goes into a water treatment plant that supplies water to over 300,000 residents in nine counties in West Virginia. People from the area including Charleston, the state capital and the largest city, will not be able to use the water for drinking, bathing or to wash dishes or clothes.
The Virginia National Guard has been undertaking hourly tests on the chemical's concentration since Thursday night, various sources have reported. Officials have said that the water will be safe to drink only if the concentration level reaches below one part per million.
Some samples have found the concentration to be around 1 per million but residents will need to wait till the concentration level remains low consistently for more than 24 hours.
Adding to the trouble, reports suggest that the entire water system will need to be flushed out to make sure that the water is safe to drink, a process that is likely to take several days, if not weeks.
Maj. Gen. James Hoyer of the West Virginia National Guard said that the process could be delayed because of the hilly terrain in West Virginia, and also due to the large number of storage tanks that require to be cleansed.
"We have 100 water storage tanks and 1,700 miles of pipe" to flush, he told the USA Today.
By Saturday afternoon, 73 people visited the hospitals in the area with symptoms such as nausea, eye irritation and vomiting. Five people have been admitted to two local hospitals, West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Karen L. Bowling said.