A state of emergency was issued to nine counties in West Virginia after a chemical spill into the Elk River shut down schools, businesses and has left 300,000 people without water, according to Reuters.
A ban on tap water was issued as health officials told residents to only use the infected water to flush toilets or fight fires, causing lines and empty shelves in stores across the nine counties currently affected by the spill, Reuters reported.
The chemical, 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol used in the coal industry, spilled into the Elk River located in the state capital of Charleston, which is also the largest city in the state, according to Reuters.
"West Virginians in the affected service areas are urged NOT to use tap water for drinking, cooking, washing or bathing," Governor Earl Ray Tomblin said in a statement, Reuters reported. "Right now, our priorities are our hospitals, nursing homes, and schools."
According to Laura Jordan, an external affairs manager for West Virginia American Water, the spill came from a Charleston company named Freedom Industries and occurred near the Kanawha Valley water treatment plant, Reuters reported.
The Kanawha Valley water plant is the biggest in the state and contributes to 100,000 homes and businesses, about 300,000 people, Jordan said, according to Reuters.
"It could be potentially harmful if swallowed and could potentially cause skin and eye irritation," Jordan told Reuters.
The spill was first noticed by its smell on Thursday morning when it was reported to the West Virginia Department of Environment Protection, Reuters reported. After taking a trip to the Freedom Industries location, a leaking storage unit which contained the chemical was discovered was discovered by officials.
Shortly after, Dr. Rahul Gupta, a health officer for the Kanawha-Charleston and Putnam County Health Departments, released an order for all "restaurants, body art parlors and schools that receive water from the West Virginia American Water company" to be closed until further notice, Reuters reported.
Gov.Tomblin said the state is working with Freedom Industries, the National Guard, and the Office of Emergency Services to get water supplies to the affected areas, according to Reuters.