CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) — West Virginia American Water monitored water quality at their Ohio River intake after a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, released dangerous chemicals into the air.
This is reminding some West Virginians about our own water crisis from 2014 that impacted more than 300,000 West Virginians.
According to the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), the state’s Department of Environmental Protection went to the Freedom Industries facility on Jan. 9, 2014, due to “complaints from the public about a chemical odor.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says around 10,000 gallons of a chemical used to remove impurities from coal called 4-Methylcyclohexanemethanol (MCHM) spilled into the Elk River in Charleston on that day. On Jan. 21, 2014, 7.3% of what was spilled turned out to be propylene glycol phenyl ether (PPH) and dipropylene glycol phenyl ether (DiPPH).
300,000 West Virginians in nine counties – Cabell, Lincoln, Logan, Boone, Kanawha, Putnam, Jackson, Roane and Clay – were impacted. On Jan. 9, 2014, the office of then-Governor Earl Ray Tomblin (D-WV) told West Virginians to not use the water through a “Do Not Issue” order.
Findings from CSB investigators found that the mixture of MCHM and PPH caused the storage tank to erode and release the chemicals into the water. The chemicals went into the Elk River through a wall between the tank and the river and broken culvert around the tank. To read the full report from the CSB, click here.
According to a press release from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources from 2014, nausea, rash, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea were the most commonly reported symptoms from people who were exposed to the MCHM-contaminated water.
An epidemiologist for the state said that the analysis showed mild and short-lived symptoms and that it was “not possible to say that the illnesses were caused by exposure to MCHM.”
In the aftermath of the spill, a bill was introduced on Jan. 16, 2014, and became effective on June 6, 2014, to lay out rules to protect water resources and define terms “generally.”
A settlement fund of $151 million was awarded in a class-action lawsuit as a result of the spill in 2017. West Virginia American Water agreed to pay up to $126 million and Eastman Chemical Company – the manufacturer of the chemicals – agreed to pay up to $25 million.