A material spill turned a river in Boone County, WV a milky shade of white, according to Tom Aluise, a spokesperson for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.
Aluise said 2,400 gallons of DT-50-D leaked into a river off Pond Fork Road from the Eastern Associated Coal prep plant, a Patriot subsidiary in Wharton.
The substance is generally used as a suppressant to cover coal and rail cars to cut down on the dust they can spread. Its consistency has the appearance of milky latex.
The material is not toxic, but the DEP has advised people not to swim in the water or drink it.
Boone County Emergency Services were also contacted to respond to the spill, according to Aluise.
By Thursday morning, the substance had creeped approximately 8 miles into the Van area of Boone County.
"I didn't know what to think about it," said Bobbi Jo Debruhl, of Van. "I looked at my mom and said, "What's wrong with the creek? It's white! It doesn't look normal at all.'"
Debruhl said she often fishes in the river and usually lets her dog swim in the water.
"I've never seen the creek like this, ever," Debruhl said.
The DEP indicated Thursday morning the water could flow 12 miles to Madison before the white material dissipates.
Environmental activist Maria Gunnoe lives in Bob White, several miles away from Van.
"When they pollute our streams, they're affecting our culture of people," Gunnoe said. "It's careless neglect is what it is."
Aluise said the DEP will probably penalize the plant for the spill in the upcoming months. DEP crews spent Thursday examining the white water. Possible cleanup solutions include absorbing the substance with a vacuum truck.
Patriot Coal issued a statement about the situation, saying the company immediately contacted the DEP's Emergency Response Spill Alert System.
According to Patriot's statement, the spill occurred at about 11 p.m. during a delivery of dust suppressant by the vendor, Zinkan Enterprises.
"We are cooperating fully with WVDEP in its investigation," the statement reads. "At this time there does not appear to be any adverse impact to fish from this spill, which is consistent with the vendor's representations regarding the product."
Officials with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources stocked the Upper Pond Fork with 2,500 small brown trout on Tuesday, according to spokesperson Hoy Murphy.
DNR officials inspected the area Thursday but could not find evidence of dead fish, Murphy said.
The statement went on to state Patriot would take any remediation steps WVDEP deems necessary, and also will continue to work with Zinkan Enterprises to identify and put in place measures to minimize the effects of the spill.
West Virginia American Water spokesperson Laura Jordan said the company services most people in the Van area, explaining that these customers draw water from the Elk River in Kanawha County.
Jordan suggested that any people who use well water should contact the Boone County Health Department for water testing.
In a phone conversation Thursday, a sanitarian for BCHD said the department will test anyone's water upon request. The office was not asked to issue a water boil advisory.