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West Virginia industrial chemical spill poses yet another health hazard to the region

A chemical used by Freedom Industries in West Virginia recently leaked into the Elk River, tainting the water and leaving hundreds of thousands of West Virginians without safe drinking water.  The chemical, 4- methylcyclohexane, is used in the washing of coal and is highly toxic.  West Virginia residents have been advised to not bathe or drink the water.  The industrial accident was caused when the chemical leaked out of a storage tank, which was located upriver from a water treatment plant.  It appears that there was no backup spill containment system in place.   

This industrial accident highlights the need for safety measures in a region known as "Chemical Valley".  This region of West Virginia is known for its industrial industries, driven by coal and oil and gas companies.  Unfortunately the companies in this region do not always have safety measures on the top of their priority list.  This latest chemical spill is one of just three major industrial accidents that have occurred since 2008.  Two workers where killed in 2008 when an explosion occurred at the Bayer Crop Science plant and in 2010 one worker was killed by a chemical accidently released by a DuPont plant.

The chemical spill into the Elk River has many looking into the safety of the industries in the region.  Many critics believe that the federal safety regulations are not being enforced and that there are no state or local safety laws in place.  In a region driven by these industries it is not surprising that safety standards are being overlooked and workers being placed in peril.  The balance between economics and environmental safety has always been a hot button issue in the region.  This latest accident hopefully will open the eyes of lawmakers, company owners, and residents that safety must be made a priority. 

Source:  "West Virginia:  New health hazard, same story?" by Leigh Ann Caldwell, CNN, January 19, 2014

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