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Hundreds Of Thousands Still Without Water In W. Va.

(This post was last updated at 4 p.m. ET.)

For the third day in a row, hundreds of thousands of West Virginians are unable to drink, cook or wash with the water in their homes.

During a press conference, West Virginia American Water President Jeff McIntyre, who oversees the states largest water treatment plant, said it could be days before the water is safe for use.

As Mark reported on Friday, the potable water was contaminated when methylcyclohexene methanol — a chemical used in a coal-washing process — leaked into the Elk River near Charleston on Thursday.

The chemical overflowed from a tank owned by Freedom Industries, a company that specializes in producing chemicals for the mining, steel and cement industries.

The water, McIntyre said, is being tested constantly and the amount of methylcyclohexene methanol in the water needs to come down to 1 part per million, before it is safe to drink.

On Friday, that reading came in at 1.7 parts per million.

The AP reports:

"Federal authorities, including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, began investigating how the foaming agent escaped from the Freedom Industries plant and seeped into the Elk River. Just how much of the chemical leaked into the river was not yet known.

"'We'd like to start by sincerely apologizing to the people in the affected counties of West Virginia,' [Freedom Industries] President Gary Southern said. 'Our friends and our neighbors, this incident is extremely unfortunate, unanticipated and we are very, very sorry for the disruptions to everybody's daily life this incident has caused.'"

Ken Ward of The West Virginia Gazette reports that the state Department of Environmental Protection said between "2,000 gallons and 5,000 gallons of the material leaked from a hole in a storage tank," and that by the time inspectors arrived at the scene on Thursday, they found the company had not taken any steps to contain the spill.

On Friday, the state's Department of Environmental Protection ordered the company cease operations until they prove their tanks are reliable.

CNN reports that the level of chemicals in the water has dropped but "not enough for authorities to lift a warning."

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency for 9 counties on Friday and President Obama also issued an emergency declaration.

Reuters adds:

The spill forced schools and businesses to close in Charleston, West Virginia's largest city.

"Tomblin said that hourly tests on the affected water supply show 'the chemical level is declining.'

"'But we're just not sure exactly how long it's going to take before it's acceptable to lift the do-not-drink ban,' he said."

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.