Green Guide

Commission closes probe in 2014 West Virginia water crisis

Posted June 15

— West Virginia's Public Service Commission on Thursday issued a final settlement order closing its investigation into West Virginia American Water's role in a chemical spill and resulting water crisis in the Charleston area in January 2014.

Thousands of gallons of a coal-cleaning agent leaked from a Freedom Industries storage tank into the Elk River, leaving 300,000 people in nine counties without water for up to nine days. Businesses in the state's largest drinking water system were temporarily shut. Hundreds of people headed to emergency rooms for issues from nausea to rashes after contact with tap water that smelled like licorice.

The settlement requires regular updates of the company's source water protection plan, annual reports on potential contamination sources, continuous monitoring for various contaminants at its intake and an emergency reporting system. It largely reflects the proposed settlement filed by attorneys for the parties in the case in January.

The commission called it "just, reasonable and in the public interest." The chemical released about a mile upriver got into the company's raw water intake and into the region's treated water supply.

The settlement requires West Virginia American Water to prepare a pilot study and install monitoring both 30 and 60 minutes if it can get necessary approvals.

Meanwhile, a federal judge is considering a settlement in a lawsuit that would result in residential customers and small businesses receiving thousands of dollars.

If approved, the settlement filing shows West Virginia American Water would pay up to $126 million and Eastman Chemical $25 million.

Residents would receive $525 each and small businesses would receive $6,250 each. Affected renters and homeowners could claim $170 for each additional person living in their household, plus medical expenses and repairs.

Larger businesses could get from $12,500 to $40,000 for lost revenue and documented property damages. Affected nonprofits and government entities would get $1,875.

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