CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Claiming the public deserves the truth, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said he’s planning an investigation into the chemical leak that’s left thousands of West Virginians without usable tap water for almost a week.
“One of our primary concerns will be that West Virginians have answers to their questions about what happened, why it happened, and how this could have been prevented,” Morrisey said Tuesday.
“We need to make sure this never happens again and that responsible parties are held accountable.”
The investigation will include interviews with state officials, along with those with West Virginia American Water Company and Freedom Industries, the source site for the crude MCHM (4-methylcyclohexane methanol), a chemical that seeped into the Kanawha Valley Water Treatment Plant. That leak prompted last Thursday’s do-not-use water order in parts of nine counties.
“The mission is to have an unbiased, independent inquiry into what happened,” said Morrisey, whose office isn’t alone in probing the leak.
Booth Goodwin, the U.S. Attorney for West Virginia’s Southern District, launched a federal investigation into possible criminal actions tied to the chemical spill the day after the leak was discovered.
On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va) called on the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct a study of the long-term public health risks associated with crude MCHM. Officials said little is known about the long-term effects the chemical can have on humans.
“I am making this request of two separate agencies with the goal that no stone will go unturned and no jurisdictional confusion will leave any key question unanswered,” Rockefeller wrote.
“The Hill” reported Tuesday the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold hearings on the Charleston chemical spill in early February.
Second District Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) said U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) has agreed to schedule a field hearing in Charleston on the chemical spill and response. As of Tuesday night, a date for the hearing had not been scheduled.
At the State Capitol, Senate Majority Leader John Unger (D-Berkeley) said members of the Joint Legislative Oversight Commission on State Water Resources, a group he co-chairs, would conduct a full review of the chemical leak.
“This whole series of events is unacceptable,” said Unger in a statement. “While the response to this crisis has been commendable, the Legislature is determined to work to ensure that this never happens again.”
Unger said he also plans to introduce legislation that provides oversight of storage facilities, like the one Freedom Industries has along the Elk River, to better protect water resources.
So far, at least 19 lawsuits connected to the chemical spill have been filed in West Virginia circuit court against both WVAW and Freedom Industries.
Anthony Majestro, an attorney with Powell and Majestro LLC in Charleston, is representing some of the plaintiffs and said it was important to move quickly.
“In cases like this, where we know we have big losses, we know we have parties we believe that are at fault, it’s important to get in, get the process started and get it done right,” he said on Tuesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
“A lot of the people who are calling and asking us to represent them are calling and telling us about their very serious economic problems they’re facing, businesses, employees, because of the lack of their ability to get clean water to operate their businesses.”
WVAW officials could not say on Tuesday when the do-not-use order would be lifted for all of the company’s customers in the nine affected counties.