West Virginia American Water customers line up for water at the Gestamp Plant in South Charleston, West Virginia, Jan. 10, 2014. 
Tom Hindman/Getty Images

Lawsuits filed over West Virginia chemical spill


At least 18 lawsuits have been filed in West Virginia against Freedom Industries, the company that owned the storage tanks that leaked thousands of gallons of chemicals into the Elk River last week.

Lawyers began filing lawsuits, which target both Freedom Industries and West Virginia American Water, last Friday, a day after the chemical spill was reported. As a result of the spill, as many as 300,000 residents were left without access to clean water through the weekend. 

The majority of the lawsuits were filed on behalf of local businesses that were forced to close because of the contaminated water supply.

Officials began lifting the water restrictions on residents Monday after preliminary tests showed levels of MCHM were below one part per million. But the state is not yet in the clear as questions are raised about oversight and regulation of the storage facility that housed the pollutant.

Reports over the weekend revealed that Freedom Industries’ storage tanks had not been subject to a state or federal inspection since 1991. In addition, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board reportedly asked the state to create a program to prevent future accidents and spills in the Kanawha Valley after a 2008 chemical plant explosion–a request the state did not follow through with.

“We came to a consensus that we did not, at this time, have the expertise in-house to draft the appropriate legislation that would be needed to develop the type of program suggested in your report,” former West Virginia Health and Human Resources Secretary Michael Lewis wrote to the CSB in 2011.

At a press conference Sunday evening, officials fought back on accusations of oversight, arguing that the site of the spill was a storage facility, not a processing one, and was therefore not subject to the same regulations.

At his weekly press conference on Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner also dismissed the suggestion that more regulations were needed. “We have enough regulations on the books. What the administration ought to be doing is their jobs.”

Coal and West Virginia

Lawsuits filed over West Virginia chemical spill