January 14, 2014 — Health officials in West Virginia have finally begun lifting restrictions on using tap water after a toxic chemical spill. There are already at least 18 toxic chemical lawsuits filed against Freedom Industries and West Virginia American Water Co.
As many as 300,000 people were unable to bathe or drink tap water after 7,500 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (crude MCHM) spilled into the Elk River. There is no way for water treatment facilities to remove the chemical, which is used to clean coal.
Most of the lawsuits were filed by small businesses that lost income while the water restrictions were in place. Health officials ordered restaurants and bars to close. Hospitals were also affected — at least one lawsuit was filed by a dialysis patient whose kidney transplant was delayed.
The number of plaintiffs is expected to grow rapidly in the coming months, and it is possible that the litigation could be certified into a class action. The owners of the storage tank could also face civil and criminal charges for negligence.
Many people accuse Freedom Industries of failing to adequately maintain the tanks, which had not been inspected since 1991. State health officials have defended existing regulations on chemical storage facilities in the state, saying that they are subject to a different set of rules than chemical processing facilities.
Although the U.S. Chemical Safety Board has requested implementation of stricter safety standards in West Virginia, state officials have resisted measures that are designed to prevent future chemical spills.
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