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West VIrginia American Water Criticized For No Plan for Toxic Spill

The January 9, 2014, chemical spill on the Elk River in Charleston was a major wake-up call throughout West Virginia. It is estimated that 300,000 people were without water[1], and the total impact, financially and otherwise, is yet to be quantified. What is known is that this chemical spill was the result of Freedom Industry’s faulty holding tanks sitting mere feet away from the Elk River.[2] But, as the Charleston Gazette reported this weekend, new testimony also holds West Virginia American Water responsible.

The West Virginia Public Service Commission is arguing that West Virginia American Water, a regional drinking water company, did not prudently plan for a possible toxic spill, despite knowing that the Freedom Industries chemical tank facility was directly upstream from its water intake.[3] Public Service Commission (PSC) staff members are also criticizing West Virginia American Water for not issuing a “do not use” order to hundreds of thousands of people until late in the day on January 9.[4]

Fred Stottlemyer, a water system expert testifying in the PSC case, said the utility’s decision in 2004 to remove certain upstream monitoring and chemical testing equipment from its Kanawha Valley plant limited its ability to respond effectively to the leak.[5] Stottlemyer also said that, in the days leading up to the leak, West Virginia American was operating its distribution system with very little water in some of the storage tanks serving downtown Charleston.[6] Had the company treated more water in the days before the leak, it could have stored more water in those tanks and been able to shut down its intake pumps after the leak.[7]

In addition to the lack of planning being cited by PSC witnesses and intervenors, a general lack of knowledge on West Virginia American’s part is being criticized as well. David W. Mazyck, an engineer testifying for businesses that intervened in the case, said West Virginia American’s lack of knowledge about Freedom and its MCHM (the chemical that was released) hindered its response to the leak.[8]

Until proven, these allegations are simply that: allegations. But what is certain is that the chemical spill on the Elk River caused significant harm to West Virginia and its residents. 300,000 people were without water for days. Restaurants and hotels had to shut down. Grocery stores ran out of water and people were unable to cook and clean. Furthermore, accidents of this magnitude often have repercussions that go undetected for extended periods of time.

Our firm has filed several suits solely against West Virginia American Water Company (“WVAWC”) alleging that WVAWC did not take measures to close its intake and did not notify its customers or the public of the danger, but instead WVAWC attempted to treat the MCHM with inadequate means, methods, materials and/or facilities, and, therefore, as foreseeable, the untreated contaminated water was allowed to enter into its water system both before and after it became aware of the leak, and water continued to be disbursed into homes and businesses.

If you or someone you know has suffered any physical injury from the Elk River MCHM Chemical Spill, or your business has suffered, don’t hesitate to contact an attorney at Berthold Law Firm or complete a simple case form on our website.



[2] Id.


[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.