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Former Head of West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection Files Class Action Lawsuit
According to court records, the disaster stems from what officials believe was a 7,500-gallon leak of the chemical 4-Methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM), used in processing coal, from a containment tank maintained by Freedom Industries, Inc. at a site along the Elk River. The leak site, according to court documents, was just upriver from a water treatment plant owned and operated by West Virginia-American Water Co. (WVAW), one of the largest water treatment facilities in the country. Because the leak was not immediately reported to government officials, the suit alleges, MCHM made its way into the water supply of nine counties, including Kanawha, Boone, Putnam, Lincoln, Logan, Clay, Roane, Jackson, and Cabell, potentially affecting 300,000 individuals and businesses.
According to court documents, inhaling or ingesting MCHM can cause potentially serious health problems, including nausea, vomiting, and adverse respiratory effects. Officials did not take preventive action, court records continue, until they received widespread reports from residents of a foul, licorice-like smell emanating from the water. According to court documents, more than 700 residents have now reported illnesses related to MCHM exposure, and several individuals have been hospitalized.
As reported by NBC News online on January 10, 2014, authorities declared a state of emergency in each of the nine affected counties and issued a strict order prohibiting residents and businesses from using water for any reason other than flushing toilets. The ban on the use of water is slowly being lifted, the report continued. Residents have reported, however, that even after being cleared for use, the water is still murky and appears soiled. According to a CNN report on January 11, 2014, the West Virginia U.S. Attorney’s Office is also exploring federal criminal charges in connection with the spill.
Court records show that the leak and its aftermath have already proved to be financially devastating for residents affected by the spill. According to court documents, shuttered West Virginia businesses have lost “considerable profits” and residents have been unable to cook, bathe, or use their water in any manner. In addition to those who have already fallen ill, the lawsuit continues, residents are forced to wonder whether this recent exposure will make them sick in the future. Callaghan, a West Virginia native, veteran Charleston lawyer, and former environmental regulator, called the situation “intolerable” and vowed to fight aggressively for fair compensation for local residents and businesses.
Filed in the Circuit Court of Kanawha County, the class action lawsuit asserts that Freedom Industries, Inc. was negligent for maintaining a dangerous chemical storage facility close to a river and just upstream from a major public water supply, failing to maintain the facility in a safe condition, and failing to notify the public of the leak in a timely fashion. According to court documents, WVAW is also named as a defendant for failing to detect the leak in a timely manner and prevent MCHM from entering the public water supply where it could reach residents and businesses.