After 7,500 gallons of unstudied chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol shut down water around Charleston, West Virginia for a week or more, locals are understandably scared.
At least 317 people sought hospital treatment for symptoms, which may include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, diarrhoea, rashes, and reddened skin, and 14 were admitted.
One person turned away was mother Kim Elliot, who rushed her seven-month-old baby to the ER last Thursday night after having bathed him in possibly tainted tap water.
Elliott said, “The doctor totally ignored the reason I brought my son in there. No one would help me and the one nurse that did show compassion wanted nothing to do with me after getting pulled aside by her supervisor. It’s terrifying.”
Elliott showed me pictures she’d taken Thursday and brought to the doctor. The baby is bright red and white fingerprints showed on his skin from where she touched him.
As we spoke in the waiting room of the Charleston Women and Children’s Hospital, other women piped up and reported symptoms in themselves and their kids. “You have to help us get word out,” one woman said. “No one here will lift a finger to help us.”
“How can they say the water is clean?” Elliot asked looking at the other woman another woman. “I feel like they’re trying to cover everything up.” The other woman nodded in agreement.
Elliott also showed me a bottle of water she drew from her tap Friday morning and it’s a dark orange colour.
“I had to wake my daughter up from another nightmare again last night. She’s afraid of anything from the tap now and told me she’s never drinking anything but bottled water again,” she said.
There is little evidence to support their fears, but they are also hard to deny. There have already been several lawsuits filed against chemical company Freedom Industrial and West Virginia-American Water Co., with the possibility of many more.
Meanwhile when we first spoke to emergency room staff earlier this week, the nurse we spoke to seemed most concerned with potential litigation.
“People wanna get paid,” the nurse who gave only his first name, Brandon, said. “We treat everyone, but we can’t say what’s true and what’s not.”
It didn’t take long to see what Brandon meant as local television and newspaper advertisements look for individuals and businesses affected by the spill.
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