As Water Flows Again in W.Va., Lawsuits Begin to Pour In

Congressmen are also calling for hearings on the chemical spill that prompted the water ban

Residents and businesses in West Virginia have filed nearly two dozen lawsuits against Freedom Industries, the company that owns the storage container responsible for leaking chemicals into the Elk River on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014. State officials issued a ban on water consumption for the next five days.
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As 300,000 West Virginians have started turning on their water taps following the massive chemical leak that forced a five-day water ban, lawsuits and calls for Congressional hearings have started pouring in.

As of Tuesday afternoon, at least 22 lawsuits had been filed in state circuit court against Freedom Industries, the court clerk's office said.

Freedom Industries owns the storage tanks that ruptured and leaked more than 7,500 gallons of a chemical used for treating coal into the Elk River, which forced officials to bar nine counties from using the water for anything other than flushing toilets or fighting fires.

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Officials have not yet determined when exactly the leak began, but it was first made public Thursday when the utility West Virginia American Water Company determined that the chemical had made its way into a water-treatment plant just a mile downstream from the storage facility.

Exposure to the chemical, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, or MCHM, can cause nausea, vomiting, wheezing or skin irritation, officials said.

Residents and businesses, many of whom were still without water service Tuesday as officials gradually lifted the ban piece-by-piecve, have filed suits claiming personal injury or seeking to recover lost income.

"For the restaurant owners, we have an economist that's looking at their average income loss to make sure that we quantify that," Charleston, W.Va, attorney Roger Decanio told Reuters. "Many of these people live paycheck to paycheck, and now they have to buy water and they are not working. The economic impacts are huge. What the damages would be to repair that, I can't even begin to fathom."

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Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. and chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, has said that her committee will also convene two hearings in early February. One will focus on the spill itself, the other more broadly on chemicals regulation.

"We need to make sure that we identify dangerous chemicals and are making progress on chemical reforms," Boxer said, according to The Hill.

The ranking Democrats on the House's Committee on Energy and Commerce and Subcommittee on Energy and Commerce also called for similar hearings. The committee chairman, Rep. John Shimkus, R-IL, declined to state whether they would occur.

"The committee is actively monitoring the federal investigation and working to fully obtain the facts surrounding situation," a committee spokeswoman said in a statement.

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