Last week, a chemical leak at a facility maintained by Freedom Industries dumped an estimated 7,500 gallons of a dangerous coal-washing chemical called 4-methylcyclohexane methanol into the Elk River less than two miles from a water-intake facility that provides drinking water to 300,000 West Virginians.1
In violation of West Virginia law, Freedom Industries failed to report the spill to authorities in a timely manner. Even Governor Earl Ray Tomblin — who is known for being a coal industry apologist — criticized the company for not being forthcoming about the danger posed to West Virginia residents by the spill.2
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin has launched a federal investigation to determine whether criminal charges are warranted,3 but in coal-friendly West Virginia, he’ll likely come under pressure to let Freedom Industries off the hook with a slap on the wrist.
Initial reports indicate that at least 179 people have been treated at hospitals due to exposure to the chemical, and more than a thousand others have called the West Virginia Poison Center regarding concerns about being exposed. Schools in at least five counties were closed for days and hospitals had to rely on bottled water donations to continue treating patients.
Local businesses in nine counties were also closed for days due to water-use restrictions, exacting an unnecessary economic toll on the region.
4-methylcyclohexane methanol is a frothing agent that is commonly used to wash dirty coal. It is known to be fatal to rats and considered dangerous to humans, but because no comprehensive study has ever been conducted on the safety of the chemical, we don’t know just how dangerous it is.
The coal industry is exceptionally powerful in West Virginia, and U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin – who is conducting the federal investigation – will likely face behind-the-scenes pressure to take it easy on Freedom Industries.
In order to deter Freedom Industries and other companies from taking risks with the quality of our water supply in the future, Goodwin needs to stand strong and hold Freedom Industries fully accountable for spilling thousands of gallons of a dangerous chemical into the Elk River.