January 14, 2014 — At least 18 toxic chemical lawsuits have been filed in West Virginia against Freedom Industries and West Virginia American Water, the company that owned storage tanks that leaked thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals into the Elk River.
Most of the lawsuits have been filed by small businesses that were forced to close, although as many as 300,000 residents were told not to use tap water.
The chemical spill involved approximately 7,500 gallons of the chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (crude MCHM), which is used to clean coal. Because there is no way to remove the chemical by treating water, residents were unable to bathe or drink tap water for days. State officials started lifting water restrictions yesterday after testing showed that levels of the toxic chemical were lower.
Lawsuits were filed by a dialysis patient whose kidney transplant was delayed due to a lack of clean water. Another lawsuit was filed by a Mexican food restaurant. Many businesses say they lost significant income after health departments instructed restaurants to close their doors.
As the number of plaintiffs grows, it is possible that a class action lawsuit could be certified. The owners of the chemical plant could also face civil and criminal investigations.
Many are raising questions about lax regulation of the facility after reports revealed that the leaky storage tanks had not been inspected since 1991. However, officials have defended their oversight, stating that the leak occurred in a storage tank instead of a processing facility, which are subject to different regulations. In addition, West Virginia has repeatedly ignored requests from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board to implement safety measures that would help prevent future chemical spills.
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