Since this blog last discussed the chemical spill into the Elk River near Charleston, not surprisingly, a number of class action lawsuits have been filed. So far eight lawsuits have been filed, although that number is likely to rise since the chemicals tainted drinking water used by 300,000 people.
Among the criticisms in the lawsuits are that government agencies did not do their job, which not only put people in danger from exposure to tainted water, but also endangered people in other ways by not allowing them to wash their hands during cold and flu season. One West Virginia personal injury attorney argued that government officials should have been aware of the chemical leak upstream, issued a rationing order, and closed off its intakes until the chemical leak problem was resolved.
The Elk River chemical spill was the third major accident in five years. Yet despite two investigations by the federal Chemical Safety Board and federal recommendations that the state adopt rules that safeguard against chemical accidents, nothing was done. Some believe that it is due to the state’s desire for more jobs, which creates an unwillingness to criticize any industry. For example, after one 2008 chemical explosion, a citizens group came up with a plan to contain the chemicals that was modeled after a successful plan in California. They recommended it to the state legislature, and again after a 2010 toxic gas leak in the DuPont plant in Belle, West Virginia, which resulted in a worker’s death. Yet the recommendations were never adopted. That is likely to change after this latest disaster — West Virginia legislators are looking to tighten existing rules governing chemical spills and notification.
On January 13, state officials finally lifted the ban on using tap water, first extending it to the hospitals and then slowly to the other 300,000 users who spent close to five days without drinking water. The concentration of chemicals had fallen below the safety threshold for the Environmental Protection Agency and the Center of Disease Control and Protection.
Meanwhile, the class action lawsuits also target Freedom Industries, stating that it had a duty to the surrounding community, including the plaintiffs of the class action suits, to use reasonable care and to run their facility properly so that there were no leaks. By allowing chemicals to leak into the Elk River, the company acted negligently and recklessly. The plaintiffs in the class action suit now seek compensatory and punitive damages.
Though it is encouraging to hear that the chemical concentration in the water is low enough to allow drinking, the full health effects from this disaster have yet to be known, and likely will not be known for several months. It would not be surprising if many more class action lawsuits were filed.
The Wolfe Law Firm has been providing legal services for nearly 25 years. Located in Elkins, West Virginia, the firm provides services in the areas of personal injury, criminal defense, bankruptcy, and mediation. If you are looking for an experienced West Virginia attorney, contact us today.