Shocking negligence revealed at West Virginia chemical facility

Freedom Industries did little to contain the leak, investigators allege

Published January 15, 2014 5:55PM (EST)

Freedom Industries, the company responsible for the massive chemical leak that spilled into West Virginia's Elk River, contaminating the tap water across nine counties, had a "creative" approach to staunching the leak's flow: a single cinder block, and a bag of absorbent powder.

When investigators first visited the company's tank farm Thursday morning -- which they did only after receiving complaints about a strange odor from nearby residents -- they found that the site's containment dike was full of cracks and holes, and that a 4-foot-wide stream of clear, toxic liquid was flowing out through one of those gaps.

"This was a Band-Aid approach," Mike Kolb, the state Department of Environmental Protection air quality inspector,  told the Charleston Gazette. "It was apparent that this was not an event that had just happened."

The account given to the Gazette by Kolb and DEP air quality engineer Dan Bauerle reveals a shocking degree of negligence on the part of Freedom Industries, which hesitated in reporting the spill even after the inspectors arrived on the premises. Their allegations are backed up by other reports, including an enforcement order claiming that the company had taken "no spill containment measures" prior to the inspectors' discovery of the leak.

DEP Secretary Randy Huffman acknowledged that loopholes in state regulations allowed Freedom's facility to fall through the cracks. But under a storm water plan that constituted the only real regulation governing the facility, Freedom was required to have a spill prevention plan and to immediately report potentially dangerous spills to the state. Their interpretation of that requirement -- a cinder block and a reluctant report that came too late -- is being called a blatant violation, one that's sure to factor into lawsuits and criminal investigations.

By Lindsay Abrams

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Freedom Industries Regulation Water Safety West Virginia Chemical Spill