(CNN) — West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin issued a state of emergency Thursday evening for nine counties after a utility said that its water supply was contaminated.
“West Virginians in the affected service areas are urged NOT to use tap water for drinking, cooking, washing or bathing,” Tomblin said. “Right now, our priorities are our hospitals, nursing homes and schools.”
Efforts are under way to provide alternative sources.
“I’ve been working with our National Guard and Office of Emergency Services in an effort to provide water and supplies through the county emergency services offices as quickly as possible,” Tomblin said.
About 200,000 people are without water, according to Amy Shuler Goodwin, a spokeswoman for the governor.
The declaration affects West Virginia American Water Co. customers in Boone, Cabell, Clay, Jackson, Kanawha, Lincoln, Logan, Putnam,and Roane counties.
The company said on its Facebook page that a chemical spill occurred along the Elk River, causing contamination within the Kanawha Valley water system.
The chemical, 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol, is not toxic, but harmful if swallowed, according to Thomas Aluise, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection. It is used to wash coal before it goes to market.
By Kevin Conlon