Freedom Industries, the company who leaked 7,500 gallons of a toxic chemical into Charleston’s local water supply last week, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Friday. The company has been faced with increased scrutiny over the past week because of the disastrous spill, which has tainted the drinking water of more than 300,000 residents in West Virginia.
The New York Times reports that in documents filed in federal bankruptcy court in Charleston, a lawyer for Freedom said that the spill occurred when a broken water line froze the ground beneath the storage tank. This in turn pushed an unidentified object into the bottom of the aging tank, which held thousands of gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM). MCHM, which is normally used to wash coal, can cause vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, skin irritation and several other adverse health effects upon exposure. Residents and experts alike, however, are even more concerned about the long-term health effects, which have not been extensively studied.
Within a day of discovering the spill, the office of the Governor of West Virginia declared a state of emergency, telling resident s across nine counties that they should not use the tap water for drinking, bathing or washing clothes. Although some residents are now being told that the tap water is safe enough to drink, many are hesitant to believe so. On Wednesday night, officials warned pregnant women to avoid the water until there are no traces of the chemical left. According to a report by the Charleston Gazette, the state’s Education Department has advised nine school districts to keep using bottled water until at least next week.
The catastrophe has led many officials and residents to question regulations surrounding the spill site. Further investigation has found that gaps in regulation and poor oversight likely contributed to the problem. In fact, an inspector had not been on the site since 1991. To make matters worse, a federal agency had urged the state to impose stricter regulations in the past, but the proposal was ultimately ignored.
NYT reports that Freedom is faced with a number of lawsuits because of the spill. Parker Waichman LLP, a national personal injury firm, has already filed two class actions against the company. Residents and businesses that were affected by the spill are encouraged to seek legal counsel to find out more about their rights.