(CNN) — Health officials are advising pregnant women who live in the areas of West Virginia where a chemical leaked into the water supply last week to continue drinking bottled water.
“Due to limited availability of data, and out of an abundance of caution, you may wish to consider an alternative drinking water source for pregnant women until the chemical is at non-detectable levels in the water distribution system,” CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden said in a letter to West Virginia health officials.
The problem stemmed from a leak of several thousand gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol from a storage tank belonging to a company called Freedom Industries. That chemical, which is used in the coal industry, leaked out of a storage tank at a Freedom Industries facility, breached a concrete wall surrounding the tank, seeped into the soil, made its way to the Elk River, entered a water plant about a mile upstream and got into the water system.
Last week, residents of nine counties — including the one that’s home to Charleston, West Virginia’s capital and most populated city — were urged not to use their tap water, or do anything except flush their toilets. A strong licorice odor was the telltale sign that the chemical was present, and officials warned that they couldn’t say the water was safe.
News of the leak broke January 9, but it’s unclear if that’s when the leak began.