CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Legal actions against the company behind the chemical leak that shut down the usable water supply across a swath of southern West Virginia are already piling up, even as local officials grapple to discover the magnitude of the problem.
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin announced Friday morning his office has opened an investigation into the chemical release, which officials say originated from a faulty tank at Freedom Industries, located along the Elk River just north of Charleston.
"Yesterday's release of a potentially dangerous chemical into our water supply has put hundreds of thousands of West Virginians at risk, severely disrupted our region's economy, and upended people's daily lives," Goodwin said in a statement.
"My office and other federal law enforcement authorities have opened an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the release," he said. "We will determine what caused it and take whatever action is appropriate based on the evidence we uncover."
State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who was already looking into reported instances of price gouging as a result of the water situation, is also monitoring the situation and deciding how to proceed.
"The Office of the Attorney General is reviewing and evaluating a number of issues relating to the water emergency that is impacting hundreds of thousands of West Virginians," Morrisey spokeswoman Beth Ryan said. "We will discuss more on what happened and steps our office may take when we can."
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate's Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, also said in a release that he will want answers as to how this happened once the situation is resolved. .
"Once all of the impacted counties and residents are able to return to a semblance of normalcy, I expect a full accounting of what happened -- and what can be done -- to make sure this type of disaster never happens again," Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said.
While government authorities vow to continue investigating the incident, civil lawsuits against Freedom Industries are beginning to pile up.
Six lawsuits had already been filed against the company by 1 p.m. Friday, according to the Kanawha County Circuit Clerk's office.
Most of the lawsuits were filed by area businesses forced to close due to water contamination, including Adelphia Grille, Bar 101, South Hills Market and Kanawha Gourmet Sandwiches.
Jim Peterson of the Charleston law firm of Hill Peterson Carper Bee & Deitzler -- the law firm that counts Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper among its partners - was among the attorneys who filed the second class action lawsuit of the day at 7:59 a.m.
The lawsuit is seeking a class action status, meaning anyone in the affected contamination area can join as a plaintiff. Its lead plaintiff is Scott Miller, who owns Bar 101 and Ichiban on Capitol Street in Charleston.
The lawsuit actually targets both Freedom Industries and West Virginia American Water as defendants seeks unspecified damages for negligence and public nuisance claims against the companies.
Peterson said while the true scope of the situation is still not yet known, attorneys decided to go ahead and file the complaint in order to get legal actions moving forward.
Once the complaint is filed, the companies have 20 days to file a response to the charges, which he said would help move the process of finding information about what happened forward.
Though residential claims could vary from simple inconvenience to property damage, he said the situation's affect on local businesses has been severe and continues to build as time passes.