Three towns in two states were evacuated, two highways were shut down and river traffic was halted in late August after a chlorine leaked from a rail tanker car at a West Virginia chemical plant.
The Axiall Corp. chemical plant was shut down too, until emergency crews contained the leak. The West Virginia communities of Proctor and New Martinsville, along with Kent, Ohio, were evacuated. State Highway 7 in Ohio and Highway 2 in West Virginia, as well as the Ohio River, were closed to traffic. In addition, nearby industrial plants were ordered to have their employees shelter in place because of the leak. Two workers were taken to a hospital for treatment of inhalation injuries. Others were treated at the scene.
Exposure to chlorine gas can result in symptoms of airway obstruction including wheezing, cough, chest tightness and labored breathing, according to the National Institutes of Health. More severely affected individuals may suffer acute lung injury or acute respiratory distress syndrome. It could even result in death.
The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection is working with company and the Environmental Protection Agency to investigate how the accident occurred. The amount of chlorine that leaked was not reported. It is also unknown why warning siren didn’t sound when the leak was discovered.
Axiall’s plant has had other accidents in the past, including a 2014 chemical explosion that killed one employee, and a December 2015 steam release that injured 11 workers.
According to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, there are 14,000 chemical and oil spills a year or an average of 40 spills per day in the United States, ranging from a few gallons to thousands of barrels.
A 2014 chemical contamination of a West Virginia water supply disrupted 300,000 people living in nine counties for almost a week and that spill was described as “relatively small.” Within weeks following that spill, the chemical company responsible filed for bankruptcy protection from legal claims.
However, even if the company has no assets, those injured by the spill could still be win awards if the company has environmental liability insurance, that covers bodily injury and property damage as well as paying for environmental cleanup.
Standard business general liability policies provide little coverage for pollution damage. However, environmental impairment liability insurance covers property loss and liability arising from pollution-related damages. Coverage generally includes statutory clean-up requirements and bodily injury and property damage claims and legal expenses resulting from pollution or contamination incidents. Coverage also exists for business interruption losses.
Affected West Virginia residents also named the private water company in their lawsuits, citing negligence for not testing contamination of its water quickly enough and not closing down the system fast enough when the problem was first reported.
Even as lawsuits were being filed, questions remained about the liability of the government in the contamination. It was alleged that the chemical plant was not inspected by any state or federal agency in more than 20 years, and it was not required to demonstrate financial responsibility before it stored millions of gallons of hazardous chemicals within 200 feet of a river that supplies water to a large city and nine counties.
If you have been injured or a loved one killed as a result of negligence by a company, call the offices of trial attorneys Charles Gilman and Briggs Bedigian at 1-800-529-6162 or contact them online. The firm handles cases in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.