West Virginia Officials Worried Freedom Industries Skimping On Chemical Spill Cleanup

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In early January of this year, a chemical storage facility run by Freedom Industries ruptured and leaked thousands of gallons of chemicals into West Virginia’s Elk River. The leak occurred less than 2 miles from a water treatment plant that serves as many as 300,000 nearby residents. 

Almost 9 months after the spill occurred, West Virginia officials are concerned that Freedom Industries is dragging their feet on the cleanup.

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) said that the company needs to be focused on actually cleaning up the spill instead of focusing on entering a “voluntary” remediation program.

The comments came a few days after Freedom Industries submitted an updated remediation proposal to the DEP outlining their plan to start digging and testing soil and water samples in the future. To date, the company has not even finished demolishing their outdated and dangerous storage tanks that caused the spill in the first place. 

Under an agreement signed by state officials and Freedom Industries immediately after the spill, the company agreed to dismantle the faulty tanks.

Freedom Industries produces toxic chemicals that are used in the manufacture of steel and other metals, as well as chemicals that are used to “treat” coal. As I wrote in January

The leaking storage tank contained the chemical 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol, which is used to “treat” coal supplies before they are shipped for burning. According to ThinkProgress, the chemical “severe burning in throat, severe eye irritation, non-stop vomiting, trouble breathing or severe skin irritation such as skin blistering.”

Within a week of the spill, Freedom Industries filed for bankruptcy protection in an attempt to shield itself from potential lawsuits and cleanup costs resulting from their negligence. Bankruptcy has given the company the ability to delay their cleanup work on the spill that poisoned the water supply for 300,000 people. 

But the company’s time may have run out. DEP officials have ordered the company to appear in court prepared to answer “serious questions” about the lack of progress on the cleanup, and to lay out a formal plan to handle the situation. 

Freedom Industries claims that their cleanup efforts have been hampered by bad weather for the past nine months, but that excuse is not sitting very well with either the DEP officials or local residents. 

Their failure to remove the remaining storage tanks makes them ineligible for the state’s remediation program, meaning they cannot receive help or funding from the state government for cleanup until they remove the tanks under state law. This has created a stalemate in the entire process.

The company will also be unable to enter the state’s remediation program if they do not comply with several unilateral orders handed down by the government after the spill. Those orders include providing a cleanup plan to the state and recovering any and all chemicals that were spilled. 

So far, the state says that neither of these requirements have been met by the company. 

It seems as though Freedom Industries is choosing to interpret its “freedom” to pollute however it wishes. 

Farron Cousins is the executive editor of The Trial Lawyer magazine, and his articles have appeared on The Huffington Post, Alternet, and The Progressive Magazine. He has worked for the Ring of Fire radio program with hosts Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Mike Papantonio, and Sam Seder since August 2004, and is currently the co-host and producer of the program. He also currently serves as the co-host of Ring of Fire on Free Speech TV, a daily program airing nightly at 8:30pm eastern. Farron received his bachelor's degree in Political Science from the University of West Florida in 2005 and became a member of American MENSA in 2009.  Follow him on Twitter @farronbalanced.

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