Across Appalachia

West Virginia Contends with Aftermath of 2014 Chemical Spill

Date: February 9, 2017

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Jan. 9 marked three years since the chemical MCHM spilled from a storage tank into the Elk River, leaving 300,000 West Virginia American Water Company customers without safe drinking water.

On Jan. 25 a tentative settlement was reached between the private water utility and the state Public Service Commission and Consumer Advocate. The deal stipulates that West Virginia American Water to follow new requirements for source water protection, water quality monitoring, emergency preparedness and communications with the public.

According to the Charleston Gazette-Mail, an expert witness testifying in the Public Service Commission’s investigation said that if the private water utility had been properly operating at capacity before the spill, they could have closed the water treatment plant’s intake and avoided pumping contaminated water to customers. West Virginia Consumer Advocate Jackie Roberts also asked the commission to investigate the company’s actions prior to the 2014 incident.

In late fall 2016, a tentative settlement for up to $151 million in individual and business damages was reached in a separate class-action suit against West Virginia American Water Co. and Eastman Chemical Co.

Soon after the spill, state legislators passed a law requiring that water utilities review their operations and identify ways to improve water safety. Those plans are currently under review by the State Bureau of Public Health. ­— Molly Moore

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