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Lawyer's engineer inspects Freedom site

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- An engineer hired by attorneys suing Freedom Industries was given permission Tuesday to inspect the site where a chemical leaked into the Elk River last week.

More than 20 lawsuits had been filed as of Tuesday in Kanawha Circuit Court against Freedom Industries and West Virginia American Water, after the leak prompted WVAW to tell hundreds of thousands of West Virginians not to use their water for drinking, cooking or washing.

A federal lawsuit was filed Monday by Thompson Barney PLLC seeking lost profits for businesses and, among other things, medical monitoring for water company customers.

That lawsuit, like most others, seeks class-action status.

The order issued Tuesday by Kanawha Circuit Judge James Stucky gives an engineer hired by attorneys with The Calwell Practice permission to review site conditions, take samples, photographs and record evidence at Freedom Industries on Barlow Drive.

The Calwell firm, according to the order, hired S.G. Gilbert of Engineering Perfection in South Charleston. The engineering firm was at the site Tuesday.

On Monday, Stucky granted a temporary restraining order that required Freedom Industries to preserve evidence at its site. The judge will hold a hearing on Jan. 23 to discuss whether the restraining order should continue or not.

Until then, Freedom Industries must not alter or modify in any manner "any structure, tank, equipment, material or condition of" its facility, with the exception of changes necessary for stopping and cleaning up the chemical spill, according to the judge's order.

Last Thursday, Freedom Industries, a chemical distributor just upriver from the water company's intake, spilled 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol, known as "Crude MCHM," a chemical used in the coal preparation process.

On Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin sent letters to county and state agencies asking them to cooperate with his investigation.

"Given the enormous gravity of this matter, it is imperative that all ongoing investigations be coordinated. Multiple, uncoordinated, parallel investigations create the risk that we will never get to the bottom of what happened at Freedom," Goodwin's letter states. "Absent close coordination, evidence may be spoiled, inconsistent witness statements may be obtained, and any number of other problems may arise."

Goodwin wants officials to contact Philip Wright, chief of the Special Crimes Unit in his office, by calling 304-345-2200.

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.

 

 


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