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Freedom Industries Chemical Spill Closes Schools a Month Later

Freedom Industries on the Banks of the Elk River, West Virginia
Freedom Industries on the Banks of the Elk River, West Virginia

Now-bankrupt Freedom Industries, a month ago, spilled thousands of gallons of chemicals into the Elk River in West Virginia, affecting some 300,000 residents in the area.

Cleanup efforts since the January 9th Freedom Industries chemical spill are ongoing, sort of, and is basically restricted to making sure no more of the stuff makes it into the water supply. A month later, however, residents still complain of the strong chemical smell coming from their taps. The two chemicals, some 10,000 gallons of MCHM and PPH, is typically used for processing coal, has some strong effects on residents who attempt to drink or bathe in the contaminated water. The smell is something of licorice, and residents complain of burning sensation after bathing in it.

Strangely enough, officials say the water is safe. Doctor Tanja Popovic, of the National Center for Environmental Health and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Science Center For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Wednesday, “You can drink it. You can bathe in it.” One month after the Freedom Industries chemical spill, however, Belle, West Virginia, Riverside High School students and teachers report burning sensations in nose and eyes, sending two to the hospital, one of whom had fainted. School closed early on the same day as Popovic’s announcement.

A couple other schools had also closed early, yet water testing in those same schools showed no trace of the chemicals spilled from the Freedom Industries storage site on the banks of the Elk River. School officials still reported telltale signs of the contamination. Additionally, there haven’t been any studies of the chemical spill’s effect on local agriculture or anything downstream. Considering that industrial chemicals aren’t explicitly required to have toxicity and environmental effects tested, it’s anyone’s guess what downstream and longterm effects might be, for the human, animal, bird, and fish populations in the area.

Image © AP Photo / Tyler Evert

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