On the morning of January 9, 2014, residents of Charleston, West Virginia, noticed an unusual licorice-like odor in their tap water. Within hours, a federal state of emergency was declared as 300,000 West Virginia residents were advised to avoid contact with their tap water, forcing those affected to rely on bottled water until the water supply was restored over one week later.
Even after service was restored, traces of the chemical remained detectable in Charleston's water supply months after the spill. The economy of the region was brought to an abrupt halt and nearly 400 people sought emergency room care with symptoms of nausea, headaches, and vomiting.
The cause of the contamination was methylcyclohexane methanol (“MHCM”), a chemical used in industrial coal processing. Roughly 11,000 gallons of the substance had leaked from a severely corroded aboveground storage tank located a mile and a half north of the city’s municipal water intake on the banks of the Elk River, poisoning the water supply of nine counties.
In the aftermath of the spill, many West Virginia residents were left wondering how such a disaster could have struck with so little warning. State inspectors who arrived at the facility noted …