West Virginians Still Being Billed for Poisoned Water

West Virginia Water
Customers in West Virginia who stopped using their tap water after a chemical spill were still getting bills based on estimated usage Lisa Hechesky/Reuters

More than a month after the Freedom Industries chemical spill in the Kanawha River Valley contaminated the water of 300,000 residents, many still refuse to use their taps. However, a bill provided to Newsweek indicates that the West Virginia American Water, the area’s water distribution company, has billed them for what would appear to be a normal month of water usage.

According to the bill, for the 33 days between December 28 and January 29, one resident was charged almost $50, only a few dollars less than the previous billing period. Since January 9, the resident only used water to flush her toilet.

Jeffrey McIntyre, the president of West Virginia American Water told Newsweek the bill is likely an “estimate based on a historical pattern of consumption.”

McIntyre said estimates are used when the company can’t access outdoor meters due to poor weather or other environmental factors. Eventually, when the company does gain access to the meter of a resident with an estimated charge for January, their bill will be corrected.

In the meantime, it will be one more bill for residents who have been grappling with the added  costs of dealing with the chemical spill for more than a month.

Forty five of those residents, led by reverends Mel Hoover and Rose Edington at First Baptist church in Charleston, have sent the water company a bill that they believe more accurately reflects the costs they’ve incurred.

In an invoice to West Virginia American Water, the group considered more than a dozen hidden expenses. They estimated that collectively they lost $6,800 in wages, spent $5,213 in gas to drive to the store to purchase clean water, and paid an extra $2,560 to replace home water filters contaminated by the water. Three residents claimed that together they lost $33,500 when forced to close their businesses during the initial days of the chemical spill.

The group is demanding $162,225 from American Water.

McIntyre would not comment specifically on this bill, but said all claims from customers would be passed on to the company’s insurance provider for review.