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West Virginia Chemical Spill Declared US Federal Emergency

President Barack Obama has declared an emergency in the state of West Virginia after a chemical spill closed schools and businesses and left up to 300,000 people without drinking water.

The chemical, used in the coal industry, leaked into the Elk River in the state capital, Charleston, on Thursday. The spill occurred near a water treatment plant.

West Virginia authorities have since advised residents not to drink, bathe, cook or wash clothes with tap water. And efforts are now under way to distribute bottled water.

The U.S. Attorney for the region says federal law enforcement authorities have begun an investigation into the cause of the release.

Officials say the spill came from a storage container at Freedom Industries, a Charleston company that describes itself as a producer of specialty chemicals for the mining, steel and cement industries. The business has not commented on the leak.

It also was not immediately clear how much of the chemical spilled into the river. Officials say the chemical could be harmful if swallowed and could also cause skin and eye irritation.

President Obama's emergency declaration means federal aid is now authorized to support response efforts in the affected counties.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.

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