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$2.9M settlement proposed for chemical spill cases

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — At least $2.9 million could fuel additional studies as part of a proposed settlement between West Virginia businesses and residents and the company that contaminated their water supply.

A deal between lawyers for Freedom Industries and businesses and people who sued Freedom was filed Friday in Charleston federal court. It needs approval in both U.S. district and bankruptcy court.

Attorney Anthony Majestro, representing some plaintiffs, says a board would decide what projects benefiting the public good would receive money. It is unclear who would be on the board.

Long-term medical monitoring for the nine-county area is one possibility, he said.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's analysis, people visiting emergency rooms in the two weeks after the spill complained of various ailments, like nausea, rashes, skin irritation and vomiting.

Little is known about the long-term health effects from contact with the main spilled chemical, crude MCHM. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and other officials have called for more long-term toxicology studies on animals to figure that out, but CDC doesn't think long-term health effects are likely.

A push to test for the chemical in 720 more West Virginia homes has also been in limbo. Officials have blamed funding problems and lack of knowledge about long-term health effects.

Majestro said opting to benefit the entire affected population made more sense than doling out minimal payments to the affected parties.

Freedom filed for bankruptcy eight days after the January spill was discovered. Its financial resources have dwindled and the company is ripping apart its tank farm under state orders. Freedom is also close to starting clean-up work on its Charleston spill site.

Attorneys for the businesses and residents wouldn't accept attorney's fees for the settlement.

The agreement would settle 24 lawsuits against Freedom. Many businesses sued to recoup profits they lost while shuttered for days. A January tap-water ban affected 300,000 people.

Other lawsuits would continue against related entities, like West Virginia American Water and the spilled chemical's manufacturer, Eastman Chemical.

If any parties don't agree with the settlement, they can opt out and file individual claims in the bankruptcy case, Majestro said.

The money would come from Freedom's insurance policy. It is possible more money could available after Freedom wraps up its bankruptcy proceedings.

The agreement was first reported by The Charleston Gazette.

Reached via email Friday, Freedom bankruptcy attorney Mark Freedlander declined to comment.

Freedom returns to bankruptcy court Tuesday in Charleston.

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