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Compensation Remains Elusive After Elk River Chemical Spill

By Kimber Ray

Prospects of a full cleanup are uncertain at the site of a chemical leak that contaminated the drinking water of 300,000 West Virginia residents last January. Freedom Industries in August submitted a proposal to the state bankruptcy court outlining its intention to abandon the site that housed the culpable chemical storage tank if cleanup costs exceed $850,000.

This proposal was rejected by Judge Ronald Pearson, who noted that the company has spent almost $2 million on lawyers and efforts to shield company documents from investigators. At a September hearing to address these concerns, Freedom stated that it would remove the reference on abandoning the site, and also that it may release budget documents regarding cleanup costs and estimates.

Pearson also closed a $3 million settlement between Freedom Industries and residents affected by the spill. Rather than dividing the money into negligible individual payments, the money will be used for water testing, health studies and other projects to benefit victims of the spill.

Fourteen businesses and individuals have also sued additional companies connected to the spill including West Virginia American Water and Eastman Chemical Company. The water utility distributed contaminated water the day of the spill, while the chemical producer omitted critical health information from its chemical safety warnings.

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