Recently, there was a major chemical spill in the Elk River in Charleston, causing the drinking water of 300,000 people in nine different counties to become contaminated.
The spill took place when a foaming agent used in coal preparation leaked out of a 48,000 gallon tank at Freedom Industries and through a containment area. The chemicals then spilled directly into the Elk River, as well as a nearby treatment plant. The strong odor, similar to cough syrup, could be smelled throughout Charleston, especially the Charleston Marriott hotel.
The state and federal government declared a state of emergency in the southwest portion of the state. Governor Tomblin told water customers in the counties of Kanawha, Putname, Lincoln, Jackson, Clay, Logan, Boone, and Roane counties to stop using the water for anything other than flushing toilets or putting out fires. They should not drink, cook, wash clothes, or take a bath in the contaminated water. As a result, thousands of residents rushed to area stores to buy bottled water, with one Sam’s Club reporting that it sold out 4,200 cases in 1.5 hours. Police had to increase patrols around certain convenience stores due to break ins and theft of water.
Freedom Industries did not report the spill; rather, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection air-quality officials learned about it themselves. Since the state of emergency was declared, no one from Freedom Industries has commented on the disaster.
State officials are still trying to determine the extent to which the water is contaminated. The chemical was 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol, which one official states was not lethal in its strongest form. However, it is harmful if swallowed or inhaled, and can at the very least cause headaches, eye and skin irritation, and breathing difficulties.
Until the crisis is resolved, many residents of the area will travel to other parties of the state where the water is better. Already schools in five counties have closed. However, it remains to be seen what people who lack the resources to flee or purchase substitute water supplies will do.
In situations like these, the risk of illness or even death is quite high. In the days that follow, those unlucky enough to be exposed may end up hiring a West Virginia personal injury attorney and filing a lawsuit against Freedom Industries for negligence. In a negligence lawsuit, the injured party will typically argue that the party being sued had a duty of reasonable care to anyone foreseeably affected by the party’s actions. In this case, Freedom Industry would probably have a duty of reasonable care based on the standards of the industry. The injured party would then argue that the other party breached that duty of care through careless behavior. The breach caused the injured party’s injury, and as a result of the injury, the injured party suffered damage. In these cases, the injured party usually seeks a monetary award, though with a chemical spill, injunctive relief might also be requested.
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.