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Lawsuits filed over MCHM in Putnam landfill

By Kate White, Staff writer

A lawsuit asking for class-action status was filed Thursday against the Hurricane landfill where MCHM-contaminated wastewater was dumped.

Also in Putnam County Circuit Court, the city of Hurricane asked Friday in another filing that a judge allow an investigator to collect samples where the chemical is being stored.

The Calwell Practice filed the lawsuit on behalf of Patricia Carole Jones, who lives near Disposal Service Inc.

The complaint states that more than 50 plaintiffs who live in the vicinity of the landfill would make up the class. Stuart Calwell said he expects there to be more than 50.

Calwell said Jones lives on a farm on Hurricane Creek and thought it was her imagination when she walked outside and smelled licorice, an odor that lingered around the Kanawha Valley after a Jan. 9 chemical leak of the coal-cleaning chemical Crude MCHM at Freedom Industries.

“We’re all left to decide: How dangerous is it? How do you know if your judgment is a correct one?” Calwell said Friday. “The human health effects are unknown.”

The chemical leaked into the Elk River from Freedom Industries’ tank farm, which is upstream from West Virginia American Water’s intake, fouling the water for about 300,000 West Virginians.

Diversified Services, the company Freedom hired to clean up the chemical, was depositing the material in the landfill. Hurricane and Putnam County officials complained that neither they nor the public were told the contaminated material would be stored in Putnam County — or that the landfill had applied for a permit modification to accept the wastewater.

Freedom had been mixing sawdust with the wastewater and disposing of it at the landfill. The company stopped after Hurricane filed a lawsuit demanding a halt to the practice.

Kanawha Circuit Judge Paul Zakaib issued a preliminary injunction. However, he dismissed the case four days later because the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection allowed Waste Management of West Virginia, which owns the landfill, to change the end date of its permit from Oct. 1 to March 26, so the permit expired before the March 28 hearing took place.

The permit allowed Waste Management to dump up to 700 tons of the the sawdust/wastewater mix into the landfill; company spokeswoman Lisa Kardell has said it deposited about 228 tons before ceasing.

Officials in Hurricane have launched an investigation into the chemical dumping, said attorney Mike Callaghan. However, Waste Management wouldn’t allow the city’s investigator to collect samples of the cells the MCHM-mixture is being stored in.

Both cases have been assigned to Putnam Circuit Judge Phillip Stowers.

“We’re asking [Stowers] to issue an order to direct Waste Management to comply with our investigative order,” Callaghan said.

At a Putnam County Commission meeting Tuesday, commissioners voted to split a $60,000 retainer with the city of Hurricane to hire Callaghan, who was DEP secretary from 2000 to 2003, and several other attorneys with national environmental experience to file a federal lawsuit against Waste Management.

Callaghan said Monday that a request for an injunction will be filed in U.S. District Court that asks a judge to order the company to remove all of the MCHM from the landfill.

“In other words, we’re making the allegation this is a hazardous waste and it’s illegal for it to be stored in a normal landfill. It has to be transported to a hazardous-waste landfill,” Callaghan said.

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


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