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Recent spill on the East Coast could have national implications

For workers in the coal and chemicals industry, the recent chemical spill that occurred on the East Coast is likely very troubling. Colorado has a very vast mining industry. And though the Colorado Mining Association boasts safety and environmental responsibility within the industry on their website, workers might still wonder whether a chemical spill is a possibility.

The recent chemical spill was the result of a leak. As a result, a large amount of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM) found its way into the nearby river, putting not only workers at the facility in danger but also local residents. Exposure to dangerous chemicals such as MCHM can lead to hospitalization.

It is unclear how many reported injuries were facility workers and how many were residents in the area. At this point, authorities have seen nearly 170 reports of chemical exposure; none seem to be life threatening at this point. The spill initially contaminated the water that approximately 300,000 people relied on.

For workers, exposure to any toxic substance can have both immediate and long-term effects. No matter what industry, a company's priority should be to make sure that workers are safe in the workplace. Sometimes that means providing safety procedure workshops or safety training. In other situations, it means making sure that equipment and facilities have passed inspections.

Investigators will determine what caused the leak and spill in West Virginia. A few have speculated that a resistance to federal oversight and lack of inspections contributed to the accident. The company could face charges, but until the investigation is closed no one will know for sure. Though states often have different regulations that govern the coal and chemical industry, the outcome could have implications for companies in the same industry throughout the nation.

Source: New York Times, "Critics Say Spill Highlights Lax West Virginia Regulations," Coral Davenport and Ashley Southall, Jan. 12, 2013.

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