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In W. Va., 1st Chemical Spill Lawsuits Filed

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on January 13, 2014 10:54 AM

The first lawsuits have already been filed after a West Virginia chemical spill contaminated the water supply for more than 300,000 people in nine counties.

At least five people were admitted to area hospitals "for symptoms that could have been caused by Thursday's chemical leak into the Elk River," according to The Register-Herald of Beckley, West Virginia. Affected residents are under orders not to use the water from their own taps.

If the proposed class-action lawsuits move forward, the chemical distributor could face a staggering damages award for the incident.

Crude MCHM Spill

Last week, about 7,500 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, or "Crude MCHM," leaked into the soil on the banks of the Elk River, eventually leaching through the soil and into the river, a mile upriver from the West Virginia American Water plant. The chemical continued to flow in the river and severely contaminated the drinking water, reports The Register-Herald. President Obama has declared a federal emergency.

Crude MCHM is a frothing agent used in the coal preparation process. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, MCHM is harmful if swallowed or inhaled and can cause eye and skin irritation, nausea, and vomiting.

The do-not-use order has left businesses and residents without clean water for days. It's still unclear when the water will be safe to consume, reports CNN. Meantime, Freedom Industries, which owns the storage facilities where the tank leaked, is facing a slew of proposed class-action lawsuits by local businesses and residents.

Businesses, Residents File Suit

The lawsuits were filed on behalf of businesses forced to shut down because of the spill, along with all West Virginia American Water customers. Like we saw in the NCAA concussion lawsuits, some of the chemical spill lawsuits may be consolidated to help streamline the massive litigation process, reports The Charleston Gazette.

Following the spill, restaurants, bars, day-care centers and other businesses with health permits in Kanawha and Putnam counties were ordered to close immediately. The businesses' lawsuits ask for the recovery of lost profits and other damages caused by the spill and government-ordered closure of businesses during the state of emergency.

West Virginia residents, who have been deprived of clean water for drinking and bathing, filed a proposed class-action suit against Freedom Industries and West Virginia American Water Company, alleging that they endured personal injury, damage to property, loss of income, and a nuisance because of the water contamination, reports PRWeb.

Without a doubt, this is only the tip of the iceberg for Freedom Industries; they're likely gearing up to hear from more victims' toxic tort attorneys.

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