Things are looking worse and worse for Freedom Industries, who filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last week following the disastrous chemical spill in West Virginia. Now, the state Department of Environmental Protection is saying that the company violated state code by failing to mention the presence of a second chemical in the tank.
About 300,000 West Virginians were left without tap water when a storage tank owned by Freedom leaked into the Elk River on January 9th. The chemical, MCHM, is used to wash coal. It can cause skin irritation, vomiting, diarrhea and other health issues when consumed or upon exposure. Shortly after the leak was discovered, the office of the governor of West Virginia declared a state of emergency. Residents across nine counties were advised not to use the water for anything except flushing toilets.
Now, Freedom is saying the PPH was also in the storage tank. Company President Gary Southern wrote that the tank contained about 88.5 percent MCHM, 7.3 percent PPH, and the rest water.
Governor Earl Ray Tomblin said he was “very disappointed” that it took twelve days for Freedom to disclose this information. In a news conference, he stated that “You know, once again it’s another one of those chemicals that very few people knew anything about,” Little is known about the long-term health consequences of exposure to PPH and MCHM.
Residents and business owners in West Virginia are seeking legal action over the water contamination. Parker Waichman LLP, a national personal injury law firm, has filed class action lawsuits on behalf of residents and businesses that were affected by the spill. The firm is offering free legal advice to those interested in joining the litigation.
The chemical spill has left many wondering how Freedom managed to dodge regulations to this effect. As it turns out, gaps in regulation and poor oversight have allowed a hole to develop at the bottom of the tank unnoticed. Because the tank was an above ground chemical storage unit, the EPA had little involvement in its activity. Further investigation found that an inspector had not been on site since 1991. To make matters worse, several years ago the state had ignored a federal agency who advised them to employ stricter regulations following the death of workers who died in a chemical accident.