W.VA Water Contamination Lawsuit Includes Airport As Defendant

A new environmental lawsuit filed over the January chemical spill in West Virginia, which left hundreds of thousands of residents without drinking water, alleges that a local airport is partly to blame. 

On June 20, Charleston’s Yeager Airport was added as a defendant to a water contamination lawsuit filed against Freedom Industries over a coal chemical spill that occurred on January 9.

According to allegations raised in the complaint, work on a Yeager runway led to runoff that contributed to the failure of Freedom Industries’ storage tanks.

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The airport had been conducting a runway extension before the spill, according to the lawsuit, and water from the site allegedly eroded the foundation of the Freedom Industries tank. The tank subsequently failed, allowing an estimated 10,000 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol (MCHM) to pour into the Elk River.

About 300,000 West Virginia residents and businesses were without safe drinking water for several days in Charleston and nine surrounding counties.

The chemical emitted a strong odor similar to licorice, and caused residents to suffer eye and skin irritation and nausea in the area, resulting in a water ban.

Little is known about the long-term health effects of MCHM. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that MCHM is a type of organic alcohol that is not combustible. It’s obvious odor makes its presence fairly easy to detect. In fact, residents noticing the smell were the first indication that the water had been contaminated.

Yeager Airport officials have indicated that their runway extension was approved by the state and that Freedom Industries never complained about water runoff problems.

Freedom Industries and the West Virginia American Water Company, which supplies drinking water for the area, face more than 65 toxic tort lawsuits over the chemical spill, 40 of which are class actions. A few of the claims also list Eastman Chemical, the manufacturer of the MCHM involved in the incident, as a defendant as well. Freedom Industries has declared bankruptcy.

Photo Courtesy of Steve A Johnson via Flickr CC 2.0

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