Dialysis providers closed clinics temporarily or consolidated operations this past week after chemicals used to clean coal leaked from a storage tank and washed into the Elk River near Charleston, W.Va., forcing a local water supplier to suspend service to more than 300,000 customers.

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State officials say they believe residents and businesses in a nine-county region that includes the state capital will be able to turn on their faucets within the next day or so as testing continued on water supplied by American Water, one of two in the region.

Officials estimate that 7,500 gallons of the chemical, called 4-methyl-cyclohexane-methanol, leaked from a tank and a containment area owned by Freedom Industries, some of which entered the Elk River and American Water’s water treatment plant, which is about a mile downstream. The chemical quickly dissolves in water, meaning it can't be filtered out or skimmed from water, so people have had to wait for it to pass through the water system or be diluted to the point where the water is again safe.

State and American Water officials acknowledge they have very little information on the potential danger of the chemical. "There are unknowns," acknowledged Karen Bowling, West Virginia's secretary of health and human resources, in an interview with National Public Radio. "So we have to rely on what's already known about [it] and what's [been] tested about this particular chemical."

Impact on dialysis facilities
American Water is one of two water suppliers in the Charleston area, so not all dialysis facilities were impacted by the shutdown. DaVita spokesperson David Tauchen said its acute dialysis programs at three Charleston hospitals were impacted by the water shutoff, so patients were transferred and treatments were consolidated to one of the programs at General Hospital. More than 24 patients received dialysis at that site. “We set up a triage-type system,” said Tauchen. “We brought in our own water truck, but we had to pump the water up three flights to the dialysis unit. That was a problem initially.”

A chronic dialysis unit owned by DaVita was serviced by a different water company in the area and was not affected by the shutdown, but DaVita closed the clinic for a day as a precaution before confirming the water supply was safe, Tauchen said.

ESRD Network 5 reported last week that several clinics were closed due to the chemical spill, including BMA Charleston, Charleston Area Medical Center (acute program), FMC Kanawha, Greater Charleston, Greater Boone, and West Virginia Dialysis.

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Fresenius Medical Care North America spokesperson Thea Bakkar told NN&I the FMC-owned Kanawha and Charleston clinics were closed temporarily but have re-opened and resumed normal operations after the company trucked in fresh water to service the two facilities.