News Feature | February 19, 2014

Grand Jury Investigates West Virginia Spill

By Sara Jerome

A federal grand jury is investigating the chemical spill in West Virginia that left 300,000 people without safe tap water for days. 

"Sources familiar with the grand jury's activities tell CNN that subpoenas have been issued requiring testimony for what one federal official confirms is a criminal investigation," according to a report from a cable news outlet. 

The investigation has been in the works for weeks. "According to a source familiar with the probe, the grand jury investigation has been under way since just after the spill at the Freedom Industries chemical storage facility on the Elk River in Charleston," the report said. 

The Associated Press provided some details on who has been sought out in the investigation. "An official says two state air quality employees have appeared in front of a federal grand jury about the West Virginia chemical spill," the news service reported

This is but one investigation into the incident. "Several other state and federal agencies are looking into the spill," the AP report said. 

A federal grand jury investigation raises the stakes in the chemical spill saga. "The grand jurors serve two functions: They investigate cases by reviewing documents and hearing witness testimony, and they return indictments when they find probable cause that a person or entity has committed the crime charged. By law, grand juries operate in secret," according to the Justice Department. 

A source told the AP that "15 to 20 agents from the FBI and EPA visited the company responsible for the spill, Freedom Industries, on Jan. 28. The officials spent the day investigating the inside of the tank that leaked and other components of the Freedom facility."

The coal-processing chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol "was being stored in a 48,000-gallon tank at Freedom Industries, a chemical facility in Charleston about a mile upriver from the West Virginia American Water treatment plant" when the contents leaked into the environment, according to National Geographic

For more on government oversight, check out Water Online's Legislation and Regulations Solution Center

Image credit: "Water Supply," © 2014 The U.S. Army, used under a Attribution 2.0 Generic license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

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