Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



School of Public Health


Occupational & Environmental Health Sciences

Committee Chair

Michael McCawley

Committee Member

Linda Alexander

Committee Member

Celeste Monforton

Committee Member

Travis Knuckles

Committee Member

Caroline Groth


This case study supplements existing data with original analysis to address environmental pollution burden and health effects not previously examined from the 2014 Freedom Industries Elk River chemical leak in West Virginia. Comparisons were made between the peer-reviewed literature, governmental disaster management practices implemented during the leak, and alternative human health assessment models to determine whether the evidence relied upon for decision-making was adequate for protecting public health, minimizing health disparities and increasing health equity. An emphasis was placed on understanding how the state and federal government approached human health hazard assessment and health outcome reporting, particularly of socially vulnerable and marginalized populations, as they carried out their responsibilities to prevent exposures and adverse health outcomes related to the Elk River chemical leak and future similar disasters. The central research question guiding this research study was, “how did governmental disaster risk management policies and/or practices implemented during the Elk River chemical leak increase the health inequity burden?” Results indicate that 1) respiratory health outcomes are significantly associated with inhalation route of exposure among ER cases classified as being exposed to the 2014 Elk River chemical leak; 2) there is an observed relationship between the flushing intervention and increases in MCHM exposure-classified ER cases with all pathways of exposure across demographics; 3) the respiratory health of low-income Black residents was disproportionately burdened. Results from this study can be used to close the health equity gap and inform public health strategies to better protect socially vulnerable and marginalized communities impacted by future similar environmental disasters.

Embargo Reason

Publication Pending

Available for download on Sunday, May 01, 2022