West Virginia State University announced Wednesday that it is suing Dow Chemical Co. for allegedly contaminating the groundwater beneath its campus. The school has accused the multinational chemical manufacturer of introducing three hazardous chemicals into the water in the community of Institute, near the city of Charleston.
"Although the contaminants under our campus pose no current health risk, Dow still must be held accountable for the damage it has done to our property and reputation," Anthony L. Jenkins, president of the historically black university, said in a statement.
"Dow must restore our campus to the condition it was in before this contamination and help us address the harm this will do to our image locally and nationally. Dow also must compensate us for the loss of use of our property. We are reluctant to resort to litigation, but Dow has left us no choice."
The school's lawsuit also lists as defendants the Bayer Corporation, Aventis CropScience and several other companies that have operated the manufacturing plant in Institute over the past seven decades.
Dow says that it is aware of the university's announcement, but that "to our knowledge, no lawsuit has been filed." The company declined further comment.
West Virginia State University says these companies have, through both direct actions and negligence, allowed the plant to leak the chemicals 1,4-dioxane; 1,2-dichloroethane; and chloroform into the ground and water around the school.
The Environmental Protection Agency classifies all three chemicals as "probable human carcinogens" — in other words, likely cancer-causing agents. Still, the university says that the groundwater is not used on campus, and that independent experts have determined the chemicals do not pose a current health risk to anyone there.
The university is asking the defendants to take care of the removal of the chemicals, including all of the costs associated with it.
"The law has no place for such greed and injustice," the school says in its complaint. "The University brings this action to compel Dow and others who operated the plant to clean up their mess and pay for the damage they have done."