Freedom Industries, Inc., the West Virginia chemical company responsible for the January 9th chemical spill that contaminated the water in nine counties, has been named as a defendant, along with West Virginia American Water Company, in a class action lawsuit by businesses affected by the spill.
The suit was filed on January 10 in the Circuit Court of Kanawha County, West Virginia (Civil Action No. 14C55). According to the lawsuit, businesses located along the Elk River, were subjected to toxic water when the hazardous substance, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, spilled into the river. The chemical is used in coal processing. The “Material Safety Data Sheet” for 4-methylcyclohexane methanol indicates that it is harmful if swallowed and can cause irritation to the skin and eyes.
The lawsuit alleges that the defendants were aware of the spill shortly after it happened, but the water company did not warn the public or close its intake from the Elk River until hours later. The governor of West Virginia declared a state of emergency for nine counties around Charleston. Residents were advised not to drink the water, cook with it, or use it for bathing or washing clothes. The lawsuit further alleges that the spill created widespread fear in the affected counties because of the health hazards and because the defendants were unprepared to respond to the crisis.
The Associated Press (AP) reports that 300,000 people are affected by the water restrictions. According to the emergency declaration, public water should be used only for flushing toilets and fighting fires. Schools, businesses, and government offices were closed on Friday. Some businesses have reopened today, but many are still closed because they cannot operate without water, and foot traffic in Charleston reportedly is light. Jeff McIntyre, West Virginia American Water’s president did not yet have a timetable for when people could resume regular water use.
Residents have been receiving bottled water from water distribution centers and tanker trucks from outside the affected area have filled containers for residents to use at home. The chemical is not considered lethal, but it can cause symptoms, including skin irritation, rashes, vomiting, and diarrhea, and the AP reports that ten people exposed to the contaminated water have been admitted to the hospital.
National law firm Parker Waichman LLP is among the firms representing businesses in the class action. Business owners affected by the spill may receive additional information by calling, toll free, 1-800-BIG-SPILL (1-800-244-7745).