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Dow and Bayer sued for polluting university campus

West Virginia State University charges the two chemical firms poisoned groundwater with likely carcinogens

by Marc S. Reisch
May 4, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 19

A photo of students sitting on a lawn attending class at West Virginia State University.
Credit: West Virginia State University
West Virginia State University students attend class outside on campus.

In a lawsuit, West Virginia State University accuses Dow Chemical and Bayer of polluting the groundwater under its campus with three likely carcinogens: 1,4-dioxane, 1,2-dichloroethane, and chloroform.

Although the suit, filed on April 27 in the Circuit Court of Kanawha County, places no dollar value on a remedy, it seeks cleanup as well as compensatory and punitive damages, including a “national public relations program” to restore the school’s reputation.

Dow operates the nearby Institute Industrial Park, where Bayer is a tenant. Dow “must be held accountable for the damage it has done to our property and reputation,” university President Anthony L. Jenkins says.

The industrial park was the site of a methyl isocyanate plant once owned by Bayer and Union Carbide, now a subsidiary of Dow. Although the plant closed several years ago, for years, residents of Institute, W.Va., worried about a leak, mindful of the 1984 accident at a similar Union Carbide facility in India that killed thousands.

In announcing the lawsuit, the university acknowledges that it does not use the groundwater on campus. It says the contamination “does not pose a current health risk to anyone on campus,” adding that “outside experts have concluded that the available evidence does not indicate a threat to human health from [the] contaminants.”

Dow, pointing to the university’s acknowledgment of a lack of health concern, says, “Every reason exists allowing the university to use the property as they originally intended.” It adds that it has met, and will continue to meet, its remediation commitments “with oversight from EPA and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.”

Bayer tells C&EN that it “will be looking into this matter carefully.” The firm adds that it “takes its environmental obligations seriously.”



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