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West Virginia chemical spill ruled preventable by safety board

Despite additional studies after the spill, an investigator for the U.S. Chemical Safety Board said there's still little known about chronic health impacts of the spilled chemical


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CHARLESTON, W.Va.—Investigators say that a chemical spill into the water supply of 300,000 people in West Virginia in 2014 was preventable.

At a Sept. 28 press conference, U.S. Chemical Safety Board Chairwoman Vanessa Allen Sutherland said the incident could have been avoided with inspections of the tanks at Freedom Industries in Charleston.

Supervisory Investigator Johnnie Banks said West Virginia American Water was operating with the best information it had when it decided to keep its plant running. The board’s report says the water company was initially given wrong information about the characteristics and amount of chemicals entering its treatment plant.

Despite additional studies after the spill, Banks said there’s still little known about chronic health impacts of the spilled chemical, crude MCHM. He said there haven’t been reports of long-term effects in hundreds of people who went to the emergency room after the spill with ailments from nausea to rashes.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board’s draft says it found no documentation of inspections by Freedom Industries that would have identified corrosion in its leaky tank.

It says Freedom lacked leak detection or prevention systems.

In January 2014, chemicals leaked from Freedom in Charleston and entered West Virginia American Water’s Elk River intake. Tap water use was banned for days. After breathing near, bathing in or drinking the water, hundreds sought emergency care for issues from nausea to rashes.

The board says afterward, the state and the water company addressed many gaps through new requirements.

The board will discuss the report at a public meeting in Charleston.


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