CHARLESTON, W.Va. — It’ll be May at the earliest before residents and businesses affected by 2014 Freedom Industries chemical spill will see their reimbursement checks in the mail.
“We’re looking in the spring I would imagine,” said Kevin Thompson, an attorney on the class action lawsuit against West Virginia American Water Company and Eastman Chemical.
A settlement between the two companies was finalized Thursday in Charleston federal court. The companies agreed to pay $151 million in damages.
“We’ve been working at it for four years and it’s going to be really good to be able to put this to bed and think about some other things other than the water crisis,” Thompson said.
Nearly 64,000 claims were filed as of Wednesday. The claim filing deadline is Feb. 21.
More information about the settlement is available at www.wvwaterclaims.com.
The spill of MCHM on the Elk River contaminated drinking water for more than 300,000 residents in parts of nine West Virginia counties on Jan. 9, 2014, creating a water emergency.
U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver signed off the settlement Thursday calling it a “fair and reasonable proposal.”
The goal now, attorneys said, is to inform as many people as possible about filing claims in order to get their portion of the settlement.
Non-profit organizations and churches have been holding workshops in Charleston and other parts of the state to assist residents with claim filing questions.
Thompson said Fifth Third Bank will help people cash checks for those class members who don’t have bank accounts at no fee.
“When we send that check out, we’re going to provide instructions for people who don’t have bank accounts and who are going to have problems cashing those checks, they can go to Fifth Third, which is the bank the judge has selected to handle the distribution of this money,” he said.
Attorney have already seen a spike in claims as the deadline approaches. Nearly 2,000 claims were filed in just one day.
“As you get closer to the date, I think we’re going to have people who have been putting it off filling out their forms — I think we’re going to find that we’re going to have a higher and higher take rate,” Thompson said.
“We’re going to get this money out to a very big percentage of people.”