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Health department to join Charleston’s spill lawsuit

By Andrea Lannom, Legal affairs writer

Two public agencies announced plans Tuesday to either file or join legal actions related to the Freedom Industries chemical leak.

One of those agencies, the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, announced it would join the city of Charleston in any lawsuit it files related to the spill.

That same day, the Putnam County Commission said it would meet with several attorneys Wednesday to discuss the possibility of filing another lawsuit to clean up MCHM wastewater from the Hurricane landfill.

In Tuesday’s meeting, the Kanawha-Charleston Board of Health authorized the health department to join a lawsuit to recover expenses it incurred responding to the leak.

After the meeting, Dr. Rahul Gupta said the leak has cost the department about $200,000 so far. That number is still increasing, he said.

Gupta, Kanawha-Charleston’s executive director, said the department incurred expenses through the hours staff spent on leak-related matters.

Examples included shutting down all restaurants, and then individually reopening when water service was restored, responding with the National Guard to water-related problems in schools, and answering about 4,000 phone calls related to the leak.

Gupta said city officials have not yet filed a lawsuit and are still determining who to add as defendants. Lawsuits against Freedom Industries — the company at the heart of the chemical spill — are stayed in federal court following the company’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing.

Gupta noted that at this time only the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department is joining a lawsuit, not the Putnam County Health Department. Kanawha health officials began overseeing the Putnam department last summer following a financial crisis at the Putnam organization.

Kanawha-Charleston will retain DiTrapano Barrett DiPiero McGinley & Simmons and the Forbes Law Office for representation, according to the resolution.

The board also adopted another resolution Tuesday authorizing the department to retain counsel in all other legal matters related to the chemical leak.

As an example, Gupta cited the state’s new chemical leak law, which has an element of medical monitoring to it. Lawmakers didn’t attach any funding to the medical monitoring program, and Gupta said officials want to make sure the board can look after the long-term health of residents and see what options are available to help them.

He said officials want to make sure that if there are funding mechanisms available, residents will have the chance to have their health monitored.

Putnam County Commissioner Steve Andes said county attorney Jennifer Scragg-Karr plans to meet Wednesday with several attorneys who have experience in federal remediation cases.

Scragg-Karr will get information and commissioners will meet in about two weeks to decide whether to file another legal action related to the dumping of MCHM wastewater in the Hurricane landfill. Andes said he wasn’t sure on the venue or who the case would be brought against.

Nearly two weeks ago, Kanawha County Circuit Judge Paul Zakaib dismissed the city of Hurricane’s and the Putnam County Commission’s motion seeking a permanent injunction to prevent the dumping of more wastewater from January’s chemical spill into the site.

The complaint filed against the state Department of Environmental Protection sought to revoke a permit that allowed the landfill to accept wastewater through Oct. 1 or until it received 700 tons. The permit allowed the landfill to store the waste, which is a mix of wastewater and sawdust, at the site.

Zakaib dismissed the case because Waste Management, the company that owns the Disposal Services Inc. landfill, agreed not accept more wastewater. After the hearing, Hurricane City Manager Ben Newhouse said officials would look to move wastewater off the site.

Contact writer Andrea Lannom at Andrea.Lannom@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-5148. Follow her at www.twitter.com/AndreaLannom.


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