Green is good, red not so much for 300,000 West Virginia residents after state officials announced Monday that the "do not use" order on tap water was being lifted by zones.
West Virgnia American Water said it has been flushing the 1,700 miles of pipes affected by Thursday's chemical spill, and that untainted water is beginning to flow in the Charleston area. High-density, high-need areas that include hospitals and nursing homes are getting water first.
"Thank you for your patience!" the water company tweeted Monday. "Finalizing the "Do Not Use" Lift Process. Will go to media, on website (web-based map), automated phone calls."
The color-coded map will show where the water is again safe for drinking, showering, cleaning and other normal daily uses. Use had been limited to toilet flushing since a chemical spill Thursday.
There is one more hitch. Customers will need to flush their own home plumbing systems once their water is declared safe. Details on that process haven't been released yet.
The company was providing flushing guidance via its website, media, and call center and will "be offering customers a credit of 1000 gallons, which is more than will what likely be required to flush the average residential home," the company said.
The emergency began Thursday following complaints of a licorice-type odor in the tap water. The source was identified as 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, which had leaked out of a 40,000-gallon tank at an industrial facility along the Elk River. Residents of nine counties — 15% of the state's population — have gone without clean tap water since.
State officials say they believe about 7,500 gallons of chemical leaked through a one-inch hole. Some of it was contained before reaching the river, so it's not clear how much entered the water supply downriver.
Dozens of people have sought treatment at hospitals for symptoms such as nausea, but there have been no reports of serious illness.
"Most people did not know a whole lot about this chemical,'' Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin acknowledged Sunday. "We've had to do a lot of research.''
The company that stored the chemical, which is used to wash coal, said it had "very, very low toxicity" and posed no danger to the public. But Jeff McIntyre, president of the water company, demurred: "We don't know that the water is not safe, but I can't say it is safe."
Bill Arthur, owner of The Anchor, a Charleston restaurant since 1936, bought $20,000 worth of food last week that he can't sell. He said if he reopened he'd have to restrict his fare to bottled beer and shots of whiskey, "like the Long Branch Saloon,'' the infamous Dodge City bar.
Schools, day-care centers, hotels and many restaurants in the affected area removed closed Monday, the Associated Press reported.
Officials are hoping normalcy will return soon.
"I ask all West Virginians to continue to be patient as we work to safely restore service to the affected areas," Tomblin tweeted Monday.
Contributing: Rick Hampson