West Virginia Wants $2 Million From Company That Caused Historic Chemical Spill

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"West Virginia Wants $2 Million From Company That Caused Historic Chemical Spill"

The Freedom Industries site in West Virginia, which released 10,000 gallons of chemicals into a drinking water supply, is seen in this Jan. 13, 2014, photo.

The Freedom Industries site in West Virginia, which released 10,000 gallons of chemicals into a drinking water supply, is seen in this Jan. 13, 2014, photo.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Steve Helber

The state of West Virginia is asking a federal bankruptcy judge to approve $1.8 million in claims against the company that let 10,000 gallons of a mysterious coal-related chemical leak into the Kanawha River back in January, poisoning the drinking water supply for 300,000 people.

According to the Associated Press, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said Freedom Industries owes money to a number of state agencies for the trouble they went through following the spill. The $1.8 million claim would be spread across multiple agencies, though the largest amount — $940,000 — would go to the state Department of Health.

In the aftermath of the January spill, nearly 600 people checked themselves into local hospitals with what federal epidemiologists called “mild” illnesses, such as rash, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Long-term health effects from the chemical, called crude MCHM, are unclear — there is currently no data on crude MCHM’s carcinogenic effects, ability to interfere with human development, or its ability to cause DNA mutations and physical deformities.

The Associated Press noted that the $1.8 million claim would not include costs incurred by the state Department of Environmental Protection, as that agency would seek its own claims against the company.

Freedom Industry is currently going through a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which it immediately declared in the days following the historic spill. At the time, many decried the bankruptcy as an attempt by Freedom to avoid having to pay claims from those its chemical spill had harmed. MSNBC’s Chris Hayes called the filing a “staggeringly brazen” attempt to avoid paying claims, and local attorneys confirmed to ThinkProgress that they would likely have to drop their lawsuits against the company.

“There’s going to be no money left. There’s gonna be nothing left,” Kevin Thompson, an attorney who filed a class action lawsuit against Freedom, said at the time. “The feds are going to have control of them. There’s nothing left to do over there.”

Still, that’s not stopping entities from filing claims against the company. Because of this, Freedom has also agreed to a tentative $2.9 million settlement with attorneys representing local residents and businesses. That money from that settlement, reached in July, “could be spent on health studies, water testing or other projects to benefit the group of individuals as well as businesses that were forced to close in the wake of the spill,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

Freedom was also fined $11,000 in July by the U.S. Department of Labor for having unsafe working conditions in the events leading up to the spill.

Update

This article previously referred to the state’s claims as “fines.” They are claims for reimbursement, not penalties.

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