CHARLESTON, W.Va. — An executive with Freedom Industries apologized Friday night for a chemical leak that prompted a do-not-use water order in nine counties. However, his timetable of the contamination differed from one offered by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Jennifer Smith/MetroNews

Freedom Industry president Gary Southern held a briefing Friday night in Charleston, the first public Q&A since a chemical leak contaminated the Elk River.

“Our friends and our neighbors, this incident is extremely unfortunate, unanticipated and we are very, very sorry for the disruption to everyone’s daily life that this incident has caused,” said Gary Southern, president of Freedom Industries, during a contentious Friday night news conference in Charleston.

Freedom Industries operates the source site of a chemical leak that has made water usage unsafe for West Virginia American Water Company customers in nine counties. Reporters fired questions at Southern as he repeatedly tried to end the event.

“Our intention is to be absolutely transparent,” he said. “We’ll tell you what we know and, as much as we know, to date, is we’ve had this release. Unfortunately, it appears some of the material did get into the river and potentially or has impacted the water supply in Charleston.”

As of Friday evening, almost 30 hours after WVAW officials said they were first notified of the leak, Southern could not confirm how much 4-methylcyclohexane methane had actually leaked from a storage tank into the Elk River. The 4-methylcyclohexane methane was described as a low-toxicity chemical used to scrub coal.

“We don’t believe a great deal of material left the facility and, at this time, we’re not in a position to give you a number in terms of how much volume is left.  We simply don’t know yet.  We will know that in the next couple of days,” said Southern.

Officials with the state Department of Environmental Protection estimated between 2,000 gallons and 5,000 gallons leaked from the tank. However, they could not say how many gallons of that total made it into the Elk River and, later, to WVAW’s Kanawha Valley Water Treatment Plant.

Southern said company officials first became aware of the leak at 10:30 a.m. Thursday when two employees spotted the leak in a dike area behind the plant.

He said once the chemical was found to be leaking from the bottom of the 35,000-gallon storage tank and collecting on the far side of a containment dike, the matter was reported to authorities and containment began “immediately.”

However, DEP officials provided a differing account of the leak’s discovery in the citations issued against Freedom Industries for violations of the state’s water and air pollution acts.

State officials said they started looking for the source of a “licorice” odor Charleston residents were reporting as early as 8 a.m. Thursday morning and traced the odor to Freedom Industries. At that point, they said the company had not reported any leak. More than three hours later, DEP officials said no containment measures had yet been launched even though the containment pool was also leaking.

Southern said the problem tank had been emptied by Friday evening and its contents were moved off site. The next step in remediation, he said, would be to remove dirt that may be contaminated from the property.

On Friday, Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper called on the U.S. Chemical Safety Board to investigate the leak.

Carper said it’s a necessary step following a cease operations order for the company from the DEP.  “Based on this recent information, and DEP stating this was an air quality issue, I am requesting the U.S. Chemical Safety Board begin investigating this leak and its effect on Kanawha County, he said.

The site for Freedom Industries in Charleston operates as a terminal for products that are shipped across the United States.

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Comments

  • WV Hillbilly

    Harrisonburg, VA has a population similar to the City of Charleston itself. Comparing populations within city limits. They have had the good foresight to construct 3 independent water sources for their treatment plant, which is actually on a hilltop, not near a stream. They pipe water for miles from a mountain lake near the WV line and two separate rivers. Why hasn't a city the size of Charleston, with so many threats to a single water source, not done the same? With proper monitoring and independent sources, they could have immediately shut down the Elk River intake, opened an unaffected source and reduced the down time and amount of flushing by an immense degree. Once again, West Virginia seems to half-a.. much of what is done!

  • john engel

    Gary southern was president of univar in cincinati and was caught being president of freedom industries at the same time,[a competitor], he quit univar before they fired him, the he went to freedom, i worked for the little british prick, he don't care about safety or the enviroment, all he cares about is the all mighty dollar,have fun in prison gary.

  • Beverly W.

    AND West Virginia Republicans still wants a free market? No controls, no inspection, just let companies do whatever they want to do? Still sounds like the rich man getting richer and the poor man getting poorer. I have been in WV and I have seen some of the living conditions. Thank God West Virginians are receiving free water.
    * If you all were smart: law suit and a big one! No forgiveness for Freedom's neglect!

  • stophating

    I certainly hope that local, state and national governments and agencies are keeping track of time and money spent on this so the company can be billed for actual expenses in addition to fines.

    • Beverly W.

      Amen! Plus the folks of WV don't go without some type of monetary compensation for their inconvenience.

  • HOSA

    NOW, THE COMPANIES WILL FILE BANKRUPT AND START RIGHT BACK UP UNDER ANOTHER NAME

  • HOSA

    NOW, THE COMPANIES WILL FILE BANKRUPT AND START RIGHT BACK UP UNDER ANOTHER NAME.

  • LEE ARTHUR

    WV is such a poor state that they allow chemical companies do pretty much what they want to. I'll bet the cancer rate in the state is really high.

  • GregG

    "Company president tells different leak story than DEP"..............You think?! He is a Big Businessman, of course he is going to lie like a rung and play the "poor little me" card. Poor fellow is tired, he has had a hard few days. Give the poor man and his company a break........tax break that is.

    • GregG

      ...lie like a rug....sorry for the typo

  • jeremy

    When I googled the leaked chemical, the definition says it is a component in jet fuel. I always though coal froth cells used straight diesel fuel.

  • Concerned in Kansas

    No one seems to be asking the important question ...

    How in the heck did Freedom Industries get a permit from the State Department of Environmental Protection to store dangerous chemicals a mile and a half upstream from the City of Charleston's municipal water treatment plant? Can you say stupido!

    • jeremy

      They probably have a pipeline going to the airport just up the hill.

  • I'm honest at least

    The EPA needs to worry more about things like this....too busy fighting against coal fired power plants I guess.

  • Dave, just Dave.

    Let's all second guess based on information we don't have, that's always fun.

    *eats popcorn*

  • Cheat Lake

    So my question is... Who is this company. There is very little info on them. Also, maybe Sen Joe is not visible because he has ownership in this company. I was told this by someone in the know.

  • Benthere

    Small privately owned companies tend to have these types of failures. The DEP and the EPA do not have enough inspectors in the field to catch everything. Safety and environmental concerns take a back seat to production with some facilities. When hazardous chemicals are involved....safety trumps all. This tank failure was probably very preventable, if the company had a inspection program and proactive maintenance policies. This plant has a very simple process....they do not have reactors. They are just storing, blending and shipping.

  • rls72

    Simply pathetic Major disaster like this and folks have the audacity to turn it to a political debate of whose fault it was: Republican or Democrat.

    Youre all pathetic.

    • Beverly W.

      However, it is a political debate: Republicans want a free market! No controls, no inspection, just let companies do whatever they want to do? The market is controlled by the people. If this company goes out of business or bankrupt, like someone else said, they will start up under another company name. Still sounds like the rich man getting richer and the poor man getting poorer. I have been in WV and I have seen some of the living conditions.