News Feature | December 8, 2014

Erin Brockovich Fights Water Utility Over Elk River Spill

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

California icon Erin Brockovich is making waves in West Virginia.

The famous consumer advocate, whose efforts to fight pollution inspired a film starring Julia Roberts, is taking West Virginia American Water Company to court.

Brockovich announced in November that she plans to file a class-action lawsuit against the company for its actions after the Elk River chemical spill.

In January, Freedom Industries, a chemical facility, leaked a coal-processing chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol into the river, leaving around 300,000 people unable to use their tap water for about a week.

Brockovich says West Virginia American Water reacted poorly to the events.

“They (WVAWC) are the gatekeeper and procedures were violated,” Brockovich told MetroNews. “They should have been prepared, they weren’t. They had a carbon activation problem and they opened up the system and that chemical was still in it and it was delivered to each and every individual home.”

Brockovich said she is concerned for those who fell ill after the emergency.

“We’re looking at possibly having a trust. We’ll have to address those that have actual medical issues but many of them have property issues,” she continued, per the report. “They need to replace all of their filters and what’s behind the refrigerator, coffeemakers and businesses have a big cost there.”

If successful, the suit would raise money for a large group of people.

"Brockovich said there could be $5,000 in damages for each of the 100,000 customers in parts of nine counties served by West Virginia American Water’s Kanawha Valley plant," the report said. The award would be higher for those who became ill.

West Virginia American Water issued a statement defending its response to the spill.

"West Virginia American Water is vigorously contesting all lawsuits filed against the company as a result of the spill caused by Freedom Industries," said Laura Jordan, external affairs manager for West Virginia American Water, per WCHS. "The company did not cause the spill, responded swiftly and appropriately to the spill given the circumstances, and worked diligently to restore full water service to its customers and the community. West Virginia American Water will also contest any new lawsuits filed."

People affected by the chemical spill showed symptoms including nausea, rash, vomiting, and abdominal pain, according to a review by West Virginia health officials.

"Symptoms associated with exposure to low levels of MCHM in this public water system appeared to be mild and resolved with no or minimal treatment, such as IV fluids after episodes of vomiting or diarrhea and/or medications to relieve nausea or itching," the review said.

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