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Mayor of Charleston, W.Va., says water emergency is devastating his community

January 10, 2014 at 12:00 AM EDT
The mayor of Charleston, W.Va., says the water emergency has been "nothing but bad news" for residents who are still awaiting a timeline for when they'll be able to resume normal life. Hari Sreenivasan talks to Mayor Danny Jones about how the chemical spill is affecting his community.

HARI SREENIVASAN: We’re joined now by the mayor of Charleston, W.Va., Danny Jones.

Thanks for joining us.

What is the latest that you’re hearing now about the efforts to contain this spill?

DANNY JONES, Mayor of Charleston, W.Va.: Well, we know basically what we were told at the press conference this morning.

And we are at the mercy of the principals involved, mainly West Virginia American Water Company, because they are probably going to be decides when they feel like it’s safe for people to bathe and to drink the water.

And you can’t imagine what it’s like to live in one of the nine counties affected in West Virginia, or in my home town of Charleston, W.Va., which is the urban part of that area, what it’s like to not have any water to do anything except for flush commodes and put out fires.



The governor says that he doesn’t know the details. The company in some ways hasn’t said exactly how much has spilled out into the river. When do they have any expectation of when they will know more?

DANNY JONES: And that was my question this morning at the press conference.

And there is no timeline. There is no answer as to when the citizens of this valley and all these nine counties can affect this nightmare to end. And it has devastated this area in a way which is indescribable. Everything is closing.

And that means the Marriott Hotel. That means our Town Center Mall. No restaurant is allowed to open because you can’t legally open without water. And it’s been devastating for our area. People are in their homes. The schools are closed. You’re not supposed to take showers and certainly not supposed to drink the tap water.

And we are distributing water out of a few of our fire stations, bottled water. And the West Virginia American Water has had truckloads of water to come in to try to distribute water to citizens, so they will have something to drink.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Now, we heard that there’s almost a smell of black licorice either in the air or of the water. Have you smelled it? Have you tasted it?

DANNY JONES: I smelled it yesterday, when a gentleman from the office across the street came over to my office to get me. He knew me, and he took me across the street and I smelled it when I got outside. I had been inside for that afternoon.

And then he — I went up to his water fountain and then I tasted it. And I took a big drink of it, and I knew that there was something very wrong. And it wasn’t much longer after that that the West Virginia Water Company and the governor and all those folks held a press conference. It wasn’t the governor’s press conference.

He was just happened to have been there, but was West Virginia American Water Company. And they have nothing but bad news for these citizens, and with no end in sight.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So have you heard of any of the possible health side effects? Are there clinics or hospitals reporting any adverse affects to people having drank this water?

DANNY JONES: No, we have not heard anything like that, and — which is good news. But it also means we really don’t know what we’re dealing with.

If there are outbreaks of any kind of reaction to this, I have not been informed of it. And I think, if it had happened in Charleston, I think I would have been informed of it. We’re just told what not to do.


HARI SREENIVASAN: So, what are the contingency plans going forward?

I mean, now you know that you have this corporate citizen in your backyard. What kind of plans were there? What kind of plans do you hope there are if something like this ever happens again?

DANNY JONES: If you’re talking about the chemical company, that company is not in the city of Charleston. They are about a quarter-mile down the Elk River, which is outside of our city limits.

We believe that they have three tanks up there. One of them leaked. And the chemical went through the — leaked through the wall and out into the Elk River. We believe that is what happened. So I think that any chance of that happening again would be nil because of precautions that will be taken.

But that doesn’t help us out of the mess that we’re in right now and all the questions about technicalities and about why weren’t we notified when, I will be glad to try to answer that. But that doesn’t — we are preoccupied with getting back to normal lifestyle with water to bathe in and tap water to drink and to prepare food with.

HARI SREENIVASAN: What do you want the — what do you want the company to be able to do in the next day or two?

DANNY JONES: I want West Virginia American Water to fix this. And I realize it’s the chemical company’s fault.

But West Virginia Water, West Virginian American Water has 40,000 miles of line that they run water through. And that — that goes out to a lot of people. And we want them to take advantage of whatever technology is out there and fix this.

And I believe that it must exist in this day and age that they can fix this and allow these people to get back to normal.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Mayor Danny Jones of Charleston, W.Va., thanks so much for your time.

DANNY JONES: Thank you.