Health Department ready to join water lawsuit

By Chris Dickerson | Apr 9, 2014

CHARLESTON – The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department plans to join a lawsuit to recoup more than $200,000 it lost as a result of January’s chemical leak that contaminated the Elk River.

The department’s board of directors voted Tuesday to join a potential suit against Freedom Industries to be filed by the city of Charleston and other government groups.

According to published reports, the law firms DiTrapano, Barrett, DiPiero, McGinley & Simmons and the Forbes Law Office will represent the KCHD and the city.

On Jan. 9, an estimated 10,000 gallons of crude MCHM leaked from Freedom’s Etowah River Terminal along the Elk River. More than 300,000 residents in parts of nine counties who use West Virginia American Water were without tap water for days, and many still are wary of using the water. WVAWC’s intake facility along the Elk River is just more than a mile downstream from the leak site.

More than 50 complaints already have been filed in various state and federal courts related to the chemical spill. Some of those cases are class actions, and the plaintiffs include individuals and businesses. Some of the complaints list Freedom and WVAWC as defendants, and others list just Freedom or just WVAWC. Some also list Eastman Chemical, which produces the crude MCHM. Freedom Industries filed for bankruptcy Jan. 17.

On a related note, Putnam County commissioners say they might file another lawsuit to get the MCHM wastewater-sawdust mixed out of a Hurricane landfill.

Officials say the county has been talking to Waste Management, which owns the landfill near Hurricane. Waste Management officials say the state Department of Environmental Protection, which allowed the mix to be put in the landfill, won’t let it be removed.

Last month, Putnam County and the city of Hurricane filed a lawsuit seeking to force the DEP to stop the disposal of the material at the landfill. The case soon was dropped when Waste Management changed the end date for its permit to dispose of the material there to March 26. When he dismissed the case, Kanawha Circuit Judge Paul Zakaib didn’t rule on whether the material already dumped had to be removed.

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