Chemical spill in W.V. water sparks rush on bottled water

The sun sets on the skyline August 23, 2003 of Charleston, W.V.

There's a rush on bottled water in several counties of West Virginia after a toxic chemical leaked into the Elk River and contaminated the water supply for more than 300,000 people Friday.

Don Tate is the founder of Fas Chek Supermarkets and has seen long lines and full parking lots at his chain of stores ever since the news broke about the chemical spill.

At one of his grocery stores in Charleston, W.V., Tate says 480 cases of bottled water sold out in less than 30 minutes. This is with a limit of two cases per customer.

"They're scared," says Tate when describing what his customers are saying when they reach the checkout counter. "They're talking about the contaminant and how no one really knows how toxic it is. The other thing of it is they don't know when it's going to be over with."

Tate says he learned that the restrictions on water aren't just about drinking, but extend to bathing, preparing food or washing anything with the contaminated water.

"Take home microwavable foods," says Tate. Other items he suggests are paper or plastic plates, cups and bowls since residents cannot wash dishes. "It's something we've never live through before.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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