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Class Action Lawsuits Mounting Over West Virginia Chemical Spill

Jan 16, 2014

Following the chemical leak into the Elk River in West Virginia on January 9th, at least eight class action lawsuits have been filed and many more are expected. The spill, involving a little understood chemical, led to the governor declaring a state of emergency and a nine-county water ban that impacted 300,000 people.

The lawsuits were filed in Kanawha Circuit Court and all involved similar questions of law or fact involving the chemical leak and water contamination, according to The West Virginia Record. The lawsuits were brought against Freedom Industries; West Virginia-America Water Company was named as a defendant in four of the lawsuits.

On January 11th, an expedited motion was made to refer the cases to the mass litigation panel and indicating that it is reasonably expected that significantly more lawsuits will be filed, according to The West Virginia Record. Also, according to the motion, “The scale of the effects of this catastrophic event, including the potentially 300,000 effected water customers and potential class claimants, necessitate referral of these cases to the Mass Litigation Panel.” The motion also indicates that the Mass Litigation Panel is needed to efficiently manage the range and scope of the claims filed and expected.

Parker Waichman’s Co-Counsel in the Class Action Lawsuits, Harry F. Bell Jr. of the Bell Law Firm said the contamination is chaos and amounts to responsibility and accountability. “This was a preventable incident,” Bell said. “This comes down to businesses and governmental agencies not doing their job, which has caused hospitalizations, personal injuries and personal inconveniences that tug at you because so many are involved,” The West Virginia Record reported.

Bell noted that water is critical and in the midst of cold and flu season, the water ban left people unable to even wash their hands, according to The West Virginia Record. “So many people are affected and many of them can’t just take off and go somewhere until it’s over,” Bell said. “The people of West Virginia are mad and angry and they deserve answers,” he added.

Bell said that government officials should have been aware of what was taking place so close to it facility, should have issued a rationing order, should have closed its intakes, and should have opened the intakes once the leak had been stopped, The West Virginia Record wrote. None of this happened, according to Bell. “This is a real problem,” Bell said. “This is Charleston, West Virginia, not a third-world country. They didn’t plan appropriately for this and everything has been shut down because of it,” he said, adding, “People deserve to know; they deserve to get answers.”

According to West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, Freedom Industries neglected to report the leak to the chemical hot line. Because the chemical flowed into the West Virginia-American Water intake system, the contaminated water leak impacted nine counties, according to

The lawsuits allege that, on January 9th, Freedom Industries negligently and recklessly caused the chemical leak at its Etowah River Terminal plant, which led to the Elk River chemical spill. Freedom Industries had a duty to area residents and business owners to use reasonable care in appropriately running and operating the Etowah River Terminal plant and to prevent chemicals from being released into the Elk River, and also negligently and recklessly breached its duty by causing the leak and permitting the chemical to be unlawfully released into the river, the lawsuit also alleges, wrote The West Virginia Record.

The chemical, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, is a coal cleaning chemical that acts as a foaming agent and may lead to nausea, vomiting dizziness, headaches, diarrhea, red or irritated skin, itching, rash, eye irritation, irritation of the nose and throat, and drowsiness. In laboratory testing the chemical has led to unconsciousness and death in rats. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the chemical affects the eyes, skin, and central nervous and respiratory systems. Long-term and other effects remain unknown.

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