WV Officials: Water Ban Lifted

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UPDATE 1:20 p.m. A ban on tap water has been lifted in part of West Virginia that was hit by a chemical that spilled into a river and tainted the water supply.

Gov. Earl Tomblin made the announcement at a news conference Monday, five days after about 300,000 people were told not to drink, wash or use the water in any way other than to flush their toilets.

Officials are lifting the ban in a strict, methodical manner to help ensure the water system is not overwhelmed by excessive demand, which could cause more water quality and service issues.

For an interactive map of which areas are no longer under the ban click here.

The water crisis started Thursday when the chemical used in coal processing leaked from a Freedom Industries plant into the nearby Elk River.

It's still not clear exactly what caused a tank to start leaking the chemical.

The ban on water is still in effect for thousands of West Virginians, but once acceptable readings are found the ban will be lifted by zones.

Tests collected at 7 a.m. Sunday showed 0 parts per million (ppm) at the source of the leak.

"The numbers we're seeing look good and are very encouraging," Governor Earl Ray Tomblin said during Sunday's news conference. "The numbers we're seeing are trending in the right direction."

Hundreds of samples have been taken and sent to 10 labs in West Virginia and some have been flown to Ohio and Pennsylvania for readings.

Sampling conducted at the water treatment plant in Charleston within the last 24 hours has readings below the 1ppm, water officials announced. This allows the next step of sampling and testing to begin.

However, there's no timetable when the ban will be lifted. During the news conference West Virginia American Water President Jeffrey McIntyre said he couldn't predict when the ban would be lifted.

"I don't think we're several days from being able to lift the ban, but I'm not saying today," McIntyre said.

The ban will be lifted by zones, McIntyre said. West Virginia American Water will release an interactive map to allow customers to have a clear picture of their zone.

McIntrye says downtown Charleston will be the first zone to get the green light. Kanawha City will be the second zone followed by South Charleston. The first zone includes 25,000 West Virginia American customers.

The zones were selected in this order to get four major hospitals back to full operation.

The governor urges people affected by this emergency to be patient. He asked people not to jump ahead because state health officials have to make sure the water is safe.

WVAW will also launch a 24 hour hotline to help customers figure out their zone. McIntyre says this will not be a sophisticated phone line. There could be some delays because it was not set up for this type of call volume. Customers should not use this hotline for billing questions. Customer service representatives will only be able to answer zoning questions.

State Superintendent Dr. James Phares also attended Sunday's news conference to talk about schools closings in the area. Several have canceled classes Monday due to the water emergency.

Phares says schools in the nine counties affected by this emergency will have a protocol on how to flush out systems.

So far 10 people have been admitted to the hospital with symptoms from this chemical leak. None of them are in serious or critical condition. Another 169 have been treated and released from local hospitals.

The governor plans to work with the Department of Environmental Protection and lawmakers to make sure this type of emergency never happens again.