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Settlement reached in 2014 Elk River chemical leak case

The civil case against West Virginia American Water Company and Eastman Chemical settled this week for $151 million. Eastman Chemical continues to deny negligence in the spill, but agreed to pay $25 million to resolve the matter. West Virginia American Water claims that the lawsuit is "without merit," but will pay $126 million in damages.

Settling the lawsuit protects each company from further litigation. But will these settlements adequately protect the people and businesses harmed in the spill? The chemical spill affected more than 300,000 people and nearly 8,000 businesses in the Charleston area.

What about the short- and long-term effects?

Individuals and business owners could not use tap water for at least nine days after the 2014 spill. This caused immediate losses such as:

  • Businesses temporarily closing
  • Purchasing bottled water
  • Hotel stay expenses
  • Doctor and hospital expenses
  • Replacing water heaters and other appliances

While reimbursing these financial losses will be relatively simple with the settlement, questions remain about the potential long-term medical effects the spill may cause. When storage tanks containing the chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol leaked into the Elk River in January 2014, thousands of gallons of contaminated water flowed into the Charleston water supply.

At the time, no one provided definite information about the dangers of consuming or coming into contact with the contaminated water. Whether West Virginia residents will suffer long-term health effects from exposure to the water may not be known for years.

In the meantime, members of the class action suit should receive compensation from the settlement in 2017.

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