Freedom To Pollute

Map of the counties affected by the Elk River chemical spill. By Justin.A.Wilcox (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Map of the counties affected by the Elk River chemical spill. By Justin.A.Wilcox (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

On January 9, 2014, 7500 gallons of crude 4-methylcyclohexylmethanol (MCHM) leaked through a hole in a storage tank at the Freedom Industries storage facility in Charleston, West Virginia. The MCHM leaked into the ground, and from there into the Elk River. 

The Freedom Industries facility is about a mile and a half upstream from the intakes of the West Virginia American Water treatment plant. Because of the spill, 300,000 people in nine counties had a “do not use” water advisory in place for five days after the spill, and schools, etc. in the Charleston area were closed. On January 17, Freedom Industries filed for bankruptcy, and on January 21. they told the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that a second chemical, PPH, had also been in the tank; something they hadn’t disclosed when ordered to to so right after the spill.

The spill (and Freedom’s response to it) was front page news, and rightfully so. However, it looks as if Freedom might become news again. Citing unclear records, redundant and uncoordinated work, overstaffed meetings and exorbitant travel expenses as the basis for his ruling, on June 3, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Ronald Pearson denied or put on hold more than $1 million of  fee and expense requests from Freedom Industries’ lawyers. And, as contracting crews have started to  tear down Freedom’s storage tanks, nobody knows how much the cleanup costs will be, and whether or not enough money will come out of Freedom’s bankruptcy to pay for it.

Then, last Thursday, the DEP reported that a storm water collection trench on the Freedom site had overflowed into the Elk River. And, on Friday, the trench overflowed again. Two Notices of Violation were issued to Freedom for Thursday’s incident, with another two issued for Friday’s. DEP Secretary Randy Huffman said: ““Freedom and its environmental consultant should have a system in place to handle heavy rainfall. If a better system is not implemented immediately, the DEP will take action to bring in a more responsible contractor to handle it.” 

Oh yeah- and there’s a new player in town. Some of the executives who once managed Freedom Industries have formed a new West Virginia corporation named Lexycon, “whose characteristics,” the local paper reported, “are strikingly similar to Freedom Industries.” The Freedom lawyers even asked Judge Pearson for permission to sell what’s left of a Freedom-owned facility in Nitro, West Virginia to Lexycon – wow. But the really crazy thing about it is that the original story about Lexycon, which appeared in the Charleston Gazette, has disappeared. There isn’t a single story about Lexycon that appears in the paper’s online material.

I wonder how long Freedom will get away with their nonexistent compliance with environmental laws, and how much of the resulting cleanup cost West Virginians will end up paying. And, I wonder why the Charleston Gazette removed every trace of the story about Lexycon…

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This entry was posted in Climate Change & Environmental Issues, Energy, Government, Mining and tagged , , on by .

About ew

ew came of age during the winddown to the Vietnam War, and like many other Americans, as soon there wasn't an issue that didn't affect him personally, he became indifferent. This gradually changed during the Reagan and Bush I years, continued through the Clinton years and finally came to a head with the passage of the Patriot Act in 2001. He works as a freelance consultant/tester for various music hardware and software companies, and lives in Minnesota.

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