CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Frustration is mounting for many of the 300,000 West Virginia residents who have gone for days without clean tap water since a chemical spill, but officials said Sunday that the latest water test results were encouraging.

Business owners with empty dining rooms and quiet aisles of merchandise around West Virginia's capital city were left to wonder how much of an economic hit they'll take from the spill.

Most visitors have cleared out of Charleston while locals are either staying home or driving out of the area to find somewhere they can get a hot meal or a shower. Orders not to use tap water for much other than flushing toilets mean that the spill is an emergency not just for the environment but also for local businesses.

The emergency began Thursday following complaints to West Virginia American Water about a licorice-type odour in the tap water. The source: the chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, which had leaked out of a 40,000-gallon (151,400-litre) tank at a Freedom Industries facility along the Elk River.

State officials said Saturday they believe about 7,500 gallons (28,400 litres) leaked. Some of the chemical was contained before flowing into the river; it's not clear exactly how much entered the water supply.

All told, 32 people have sought treatment at hospitals for symptoms such as nausea. Of those, four were admitted to the Charleston Area Medical Center but their conditions weren't immediately available.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said Sunday that water tests were encouraging, but he didn't give a timetable for when people might be able to use tap water again. About 300,000 people — around 15 per cent of the state's population - in nine counties have been impacted.

"The numbers look good. They are very encouraging," Tomblin said.

Schools, restaurants and other businesses were to close Monday, but the governor said all state offices would be open.

Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, of the West Virginia National Guard, said testing near the water treatment facility has consistently been below one part per million for 24 hours, a key step officials needed before they can lift the ban. Some tests have shown the chemical was not present at all in water coming in and out of the plant.

West Virginia American Water President Jeff McIntyre said they will lift the water bans by zone, but he didn't say how soon it would be.

Water sample test results must consistently show that the chemical's presence in the public water system is at or below 1 parts per million, the level recommended by federal agencies, McIntyre said.

The uncertainty means it's impossible to estimate the economic impact of the spill yet, particularly on restaurants and hotels, said Matt Ballard, president of the Charleston Area Alliance, the state's largest regional chamber of commerce.

"I don't know that it can be quantified at this point because we don't know how long it will last," Ballard said. "I'm hoping a solution by early next week so business can get back to normal."

Virtually every restaurant was closed Saturday, unable to use water to prepare food, wash dishes or clean employees' hands. Meanwhile, hotels had emptied and foot traffic was down at many retail stores.

"I haven't been able to cook anything at home and was hoping they were open," Bill Rogers, 52, said outside a closed Tudor's Biscuit World in Marmet, just east of Charleston. "It seems like every place is closed. It's frustrating. Really frustrating."

In downtown Charleston, the Capitol Street row of restaurants and bars were locked up. Amid them, The Consignment Company was open, but business was miserable. The second-hand shop's owner said she relies on customers who come downtown to eat and drink.

At Charleston's Yeager Airport, a combined seven inbound and outbound flights were cancelled. The reason for the cancellations was an agreement between the airlines and unions for flight crews and pilots that hotels meet a certain threshold of service, and the lack of water violates the agreement, said airport spokesman Brian Belcher. Arrangements were being made to house flight personnel in hotels about 40 miles (64 kilometres) away.

Federal authorities, including the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, opened an investigation into Thursday's spill.

According to Department of Environmental Protection officials, Freedom Industries is exempt from DEP inspections and permitting since it stores chemicals, and doesn't produce them.

Tomblin said he will work with his environmental agency chief on tightening regulation of chemical storage facilities in the current legislative session.

State officials were working over the weekend on alternative sources of water that may allow restaurants to reopen. Several businesses that had arranged other sources of water were inspected Saturday.

"We will work around the clock, 24-7, and try to open ... as many businesses as possible in the next couple of days," said Dr. Rahul Gupta, health officer for the Kanawha-Charleston and Putnam County boards of health.

By Saturday morning, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said it had delivered about 50 truckloads of water, or a million litres, to West Virginia for distribution at sites including fire departments.

Chris Laws found bottled water on Saturday for his two elderly next-door neighbours.

"They can't get out," said Laws, 42, of Marmet, a coal miner. "I'm keeping an eye on them. You got to watch out for your neighbours. They're the ones who are going to watch out for you."

He said he was angry at the company at the centre of the leak, Freedom Industries.

"A lot of people are facing bad situations because of this," he said. "They're struggling. What I don't understand is how did this happen?"

____

Associated Press writers Mitch Weiss, Brendan Farrington, Jonathan Matisse and Pam Ramsey in Charleston contributed to this report.

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  • Jonathan Steele

    Jonathan Steele, owner of Bluegrass Kitchen, displays hand washing stations that he used in the back of his restaurant in Charleston, W.Va., Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014. Steele was able to open his restaurant using bottled water on Sunday. He is still using bottled water to cook with. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

  • Al Jones of the West Virginia department of General Services tests the water as he flushes the faucet and opens a rest room on the first floor of the State Capitol in Charleston, W.Va., Monday, Jan. 13, 2014. Gov. Earl Tomblin announced that the water system is ready to be flushed by zones with safe drinking water after the chemical spill on Jan. 9. It could still be several days before everyone is cleared to use the water again, but officials were grateful to give the green light to about 6,000 to 10,000 customers. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

  • Heather Smith's husband taps into a water spring behind their house in Elkview, W.Va. She told The Huffington Post in an email: <blockquote>We only live about a mile off the interstate but we're still in the country. We don't have a well but have a creek that runs right beside our home and my husband tapped into a spring behind our house. It's constantly flowing and he ran a 50 foot hose down hill into a large bucket and we've been boiling this water on the stove to bathe and wash out hands with. I've also put a touch of bleach in it and used it to wash dishes and clothes by hand. It's not easy and my husband makes many trips to fill each pot and I boil it and empty it only for him to make another trip to collect more water. It's work but I'm just thankful that we found it. Most people don't have a fresh spring running behind their home.</blockquote>

  • Elkview, W.Va. resident Heather Smith boils water at her home. She told The Huffington Post in an email: <blockquote>We only live about a mile off the interstate but we're still in the country. We don't have a well but have a creek that runs right beside our home and my husband tapped into a spring behind our house. It's constantly flowing and he ran a 50 foot hose down hill into a large bucket and we've been boiling this water on the stove to bathe and wash out hands with. I've also put a touch of bleach in it and used it to wash dishes and clothes by hand. It's not easy and my husband makes many trips to fill each pot and I boil it and empty it only for him to make another trip to collect more water. It's work but I'm just thankful that we found it. Most people don't have a fresh spring running behind their home.</blockquote>

  • A worker moves a drilling machine around storage tanks at Freedom Industries storage facility in Charleston, W.Va., Monday, Jan. 13, 2014. The ban on tap water for parts of West Virginia was lifted on Monday, ending a crisis for a fraction of the 300,000 people who were told not to drink, wash or cook with water after a chemical spill tainted the water supply. Gov. Earl Tomblin made the announcement at a news conference, five days after people were told to use the water only to flush their toilets. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

  • Earl Ray Tomblin, James Hoyer

    Commander of the West Virginia National Guard, Gen. James Hoyer, left, gestures as West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, right, looks on during a press conference at the capitol in Charleston, W.Va., Monday, Jan. 13, 2014 on the chemical spill that affected about 300,000 people. The Governor announced that the water system is ready to be flushed by zones with safe drinking water. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

  • Members of the West Virginia Army National Guard, along with a member of the Belle Police Department and a volunteer, offload emergency water from a military truck to a forklift as citizens line up for water at the Belle Fire Department, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014, in Belle, W.Va. About 300,000 people Saturday entered their third day of not being able to take showers and wash clothes. Officials remain unclear when it might be safe again. Federal authorities began investigating how the foaming agent escaped the Freedom Industries plant and seeped into the Elk River. Just how much of the chemical leaked into the river was not yet known. (AP Photo/The Daily Mail, Marcus Constantino)

  • The GeStamp Stamping Plant-South Charleston (W.Va.) is one of several distribution locations open Sunday morning, Jan. 12, 2014 so local residents can pick up bottled water and fill containers after a chemical spill Thursday in the Elk River that has contaminated the public water supply in nine counties. Frustration is mounting for many of the 300,000 West Virginia residents who've gone three days without clean tap water..This location will remain open 24-hours a day until the ban on using tap water for drinking and washing is lifted. (AP Photo Michael Switzer)

  • Elk River Chemical Spill

    This Friday, Jan. 10, 2014 photo shows a stretch of the Elk River in Charleston, W.Va. The White House has issued a federal disaster declaration in West Virginia, where a chemical spill that may have contaminated tap water has led officials to tell at least 300,000 people not to bathe, brush their teeth or wash their clothes. The West Virginia National Guard planned to distribute bottled drinking water to emergency services agencies in the nine affected counties. About 100,000 water customers, or 300,000 people total, were affected, state officials said. (AP Photo/Tyler Evert)

  • Local businesses remain closed and unable to serve food and water InCharleston, W.V., Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014 after a chemical spill Thursday in the Elk River that has contaminated the public water supply in nine counties. Frustration is mounting for many of the 300,000 West Virginia residents who've gone three days without clean tap water. (AP Photo/Michael Switzer)

  • Local residents in Charleston, W.V. continue to arrive at distribution centers to load up on bottled water Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014 after a chemical spill Thursday in the Elk River that has contaminated the public water supply in nine counties. Frustration is mounting for many of the 300,000 West Virginia residents who've gone three days without clean tap water. (AP Photo/Michael Switzer)

  • Employees of the South Charleston Public Works Department assisted the residents in obtaining cases of water and filling the containers they brought with them Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014 after a chemical spill Thursday in the Elk River that has contaminated the public water supply in nine counties. Frustration is mounting for many of the 300,000 West Virginia residents who've gone three days without clean tap water.The West Virginia National Guard was sent to help distribute bottled water. (AP Photo Michael Switzer)

  • Taylor Books manager Dan Carlisle, in his store in Charleston, WV., can still sell books, but cannot serve food or drink until the water ban is lifted. Frustration is mounting for many of the 300,000 West Virginia residents who've gone three days without clean tap water. Local businesses and restaurants were forced to stop serving food and water by the Kanawha County (W.Va.) Health Department following the chemical spill on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014. (AP Photo Michael Switzer)

  • Local residents in Charleston, W.V. continue to arrive at distribution centers to load up on bottled water Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014. The West Virginia National Guard was sent to distribute bottled water, and residents bought up stock at local supermarkets following the chemical spill on Thursday. Frustration is mounting for many of the 300,000 West Virginia residents who've gone three days without clean tap water. (AP Photo/Michael Switzer)

  • A worker at the West Virginia American Water Co. intake facility on the Elk River breaks ice to take water samples, Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, in Charleston, W.Va. A chemical leaked from a 48,000-gallon tank at Freedom Industries, a chemical storage facility about a mile upriver, on Thursday in Charleston. The White House has issued a federal disaster declaration in West Virginia, where the spill may have contaminated tap water. Officials told at least 300,000 people not to bathe, brush their teeth or wash their clothes. (AP Photo/Tyler Evert)

  • City officials help direct traffic through a water distribution site set up at the South Charleston Recreation Center in South Charleston, W.Va., Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, after at least 100,000 customers in nine West Virginia counties were told not to drink, bathe, cook or wash clothes using their tap water because of a chemical spill into the Elk River in Charleston, with Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declaring a state of emergency Thursday for all those areas. The site opened before 9 a.m. with bottled water and a tanker truck, but was expected to run out of water about 90 minutes later. (AP Photo/The Daily Mail, Marcus Constantino)

  • A Freedom Industries worker places a boom in the Elk River Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, at the site of a chemical leak in Charleston that has fouled the drinking water in five West Virginia counties. (AP Photo/The Charleston Gazette, Chris Dorst)

  • Elk River Chemical Spill

    Workers pump 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, a foaming agent used in the coal preparation process, out of a 48,000-gallon tank at Freedom Industries, a chemical storage facility, in Charleston, W.Va., on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014. The White House has issued a federal disaster declaration in West Virginia, where a chemical spill that may have contaminated tap water has led officials to tell at least 300,000 people not to bathe, brush their teeth or wash their clothes. The West Virginia National Guard planned to distribute bottled drinking water to emergency services agencies in the nine affected counties. About 100,000 water customers, or 300,000 people total, were affected, state officials said. (AP Photo/Tyler Evert)

  • CHARLESTON, WV - JANUARY 10: The banks of the Elk River, where Kanawha County emergency services eventually determined the chemical had seeped through a secondary containment barrier, is seen on January 10, 2014 in Charleston, West Virginia. West Virginia American Water determined Thursday MCHM chemical had 'overwhelmed' the plant's capacity to keep it out of the water from a spill at Freedom Industries in Charleston. An unknown amount of the hazardous chemical contaminated the public water system for potentially 300,000 people in West Virginia. (Photo by Tom Hindman/Getty Images)

  • Elk River Chemical Spill

    The West Virginia American Water Co. intake facility on the Elk River is closed following a 4-methylcyclohexane methanol leak from a 48,000-gallon tank at Freedom Industries, a chemical storage facility about a mile upriver in Charleston, W.Va., on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014. The White House has issued a federal disaster declaration in West Virginia, where a chemical spill that may have contaminated tap water has led officials to tell at least 300,000 people not to bathe, brush their teeth or wash their clothes. The West Virginia National Guard planned to distribute bottled drinking water to emergency services agencies in the nine affected counties. About 100,000 water customers, or 300,000 people total, were affected, state officials said. (AP Photo/Tyler Evert)

  • CHARLESTON, WV - JANUARY 10: An unidentified worker at Freedom Industries shovels NAPA premium oil absorbent on January 10, 2014 in Charleston, West Virginia. West Virginia American Water determined Thursday MCHM chemical had 'overwhelmed' the plant's capacity to keep it out of the water from a spill at Freedom Industries in Charleston. An unknown amount of the hazardous chemical contaminated the public water system for potentially 300,000 people in West Virginia. (Photo by Tom Hindman/Getty Images)

  • CHARLESTON, WV - JANUARY 10: A cat is provided clean water after Kanawha/Charleston Humane Associations scrambled to find water for their animals on January 10, 2014 in Charleston, West Virginia. West Virginia American Water determined Thursday MCHM chemical had 'overwhelmed' the plant's capacity to keep it out of the water from a spill at Freedom Industries in Charleston. An unknown amount of the hazardous chemical contaminated the public water system for potentially 300,000 people in West Virginia. (Photo by Tom Hindman/Getty Images)

  • Jimmy Gianato, Earl Ray Tomblin, James Hoyer, Jeff Mcintyre

    Jimmy Gianato, the director of the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security, at podium, addresses reporters during a press conference about the regional water contamination late Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014. in Charleston, W.Va. With him are West Virginia American Water President Jeff McIntyre,left, West Virginia National Guard Adj. Gen. James Hoyer and Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, right. (AP Photo,Tom Hindman)