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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  • Will

    I am going to fix up my well and get a whole house generator and get off the grid all together!

  • richard

    Do not believe anything they tell you. Everything they say and do is to cover their own asses at this point.

    • Jason412

      This Gary Southern guy founded Freedom Industries in 1992 with Carl Kennedy just 5 years after Kennedy had been convicted of selling 10-12 ounces of cocaine. Then Kennedy fails to pay $200,000 in income taxes in '05

      Sounds like a stand up guy! I know if I was going to start a huge chemical business I'd check the parole office first, no one makes a good business partner like a convicted felon.

      • Jason

        He was selling cocaine? That sounds alot like the President's selff-professed resume', does it not?

        And failure to pay taxes? Really? Sounds alot like Tim Geithner, apparently he was qualified to be Sec. Of the Treasury.

        Funny how that works with Democrats.

        • RexCraigo

          The President of the United States has sold cocaine? Really?

          You've got proof of that right?

          As opposed to GWB actually being arrested for cocaine possession.

        • Jason412

          My first question is, why are you defending this guy?

          • Jason412

            Jason, you're arguing against a point I didn't try to make.

            I never said the EPA didn't bear any responsibility, and I have plenty of questions to ask about that.

            But this article is about what Gary Southern said. I'm calling his character into question because he went into business with a man who was a convicted felon. That cocaine charge may of happened in 87, but almost 20 years later he didn't pay $200,000 in taxes. If I didn't pay $200k in taxes I would be in prison.

            When the article comes up about questioning the EPA I will post about that accordingly.

            Next time don't put words in my mouth to further your agenda. And please use enter keys, as I am on a phone it's hard to read a wall of text.

          • jss

            no inspections. that is the problem.

          • Jason

            I'm not defending anyone. But I'm also not gonna sit here and listen to bald hypocrisy. I get it, this business needs destroyed. Great!!! Yet those responsible for making certain that compliance is taking place deserve absolution? That's the point. Basically, this company will go away and the status quo will remain, with failed leadership remaining in place. This facility wasn't operating in a regulatory vacuum. It would have been subject to numerous inspections throughout the year. Are we to assume these were new problems? Their regular inspections didn't send up red flags? And are we to assume the DEP and EPA were clueless about a decaying chemical facility in Charleston's shadow? Did the facility receive a variance from regulation by the DEP that allowed it to operate below modern standards? If you wanna crucify the guy, do so based on current actions and not some irrelevance from 25 years ago. But when you'really done with your crusade, perhaps it would be wise to begin asking some valid questions of state government.

  • Legal Eagle

    Ever hear of Love Canal?

    • Dave, just Dave.

      We just call her "Legal Eagle's wife" ...

  • Bruiser

    How silly some get when an accident happens, even then they choose to blame Republicans and I am sure you wonder why nothing gets fixed. There is no one other than an insane person who would want our country contaminated but IF you ever worked in a chemical plant you would see how some of the work to keep in compliance repeats itself which in turn costs a lot of money. When on company fails, if this is what it turns out to be to report an accident, that does not mean another 99 other companies are not complying. Crazy talk like some do, I wonder how in the world our country will ever get fixed.

  • David

    And you have these die hard GOP'ers that want less regulation or to do away the EPA all together!! What side of the fence are you all on now???

    • wvtd

      I am more of a conservationist than you will ever be and I am tea party proud!

      • Mike

        Then you are obviously ignorant of your own platform.

        • Jason412

          I agree this is neither a Republican or Democrat issue but wvtd the Tea Party does have a petition, and entire section of it's website.

          Hilariously they are trying to make people think the EPA is a part of taking their guns.

          Bookman, the problem is a lot of people on here are constantly saying "shut down the EPA" and now asking "where was the EPA" They were never trying to "ride the fence" until their water was contaminated.

          I certainly don't want coal shut down, a lot of people in my family would be unemployed without coal.

          But I certainly don't want the EPA shut down, or to "leave WV alone" either.

          It is complicated, I agree, but some people see it as simple and those are the ones constantly screaming for the EPA to be shut down and Obama is coal's Public Enemy #1

          • The bookman

            I think this is a DEP issue, not EPA. The Feds aren't on the hook here... I believe the DEP has the duty for these inspections. The point is that the pendulum at the EPA is stuck all the way to the left with coal..Have you read any national news stories on this issue? They all gave a coal side story. This has nothing to do with coal. Can industry go too far?
            Sure they can, and will when given the opportunity. Can the EPA go too far? Sure the can, and will when given the opportunity. Industry and Regulatory agencies need to work in conjunction with one another to produce a needed product or commodity with reasonable safety regulations to protect the public, not conspire to regulate a legitimate industry out of business because of a political point of view..when industry is out of step with regulation, they are fined or shut down. What happens when the EPA overstep their authority? What are the consequences for their excessive abuse of industry?

        • NoPartyPragmatist

          Maybe you should read up on the platform, as opposed to simply re-stating what the Progressives tell everyone the Tea Party platform is.

          • Jason412

            Brother, so you agree that the EPA is enforcing stronger regulations as part of a bigger conspiracy to take guns from American's?

            If so I'm surprised you can read at all.

          • Brother where art thou


            I'm sure Cat in the Hat would read "absolutely crazy" to you...

            You'd likely pull your hair out trying to read the Bill of Rights....

          • Jason412


            Is that petition I just linked not part of the Tea Party? It has almost 19,000 signatures.

            The accompanying speech to encourage you to sign it reads as absolutely crazy to me.

    • Wowbagger

      Republicans really want to drink poison water and breathe polluted air!

      ... Right

      • Mike

        They just think it is never going to happen to them. That is the problem.

        Getting rid of the EPA and most regulations has been a republican motto for many years. Democrats have been afraid to fight them because then they are blamed as job killers.

        It is a vicious cycle that leads to dangers that are ultimately paid by regular people. Whether just financially or with dangerous poisons.

      • wvtd

        yea, we conservatives just love polluted water that we can not drink or eat the fish out of. stupid liberal wacko, I guess global warming has cooked your pot soaked brain. move to new York city, I am sure you love the communist mayor.

      • David

        That's not what I was saying at all!! And again, you people crack me up!!

        • The bookman

          No, David, you asked which side of the fence are we on? Are we for the EPA or against them? Oh if we lived in a world so simple. A balanced approach would be nice, don't you think. Unbridled industrialization has not been called for, but the actions of the EPA involving the coal industry can only be characterized as unbridled regulation. Neither is appropriate, and "riding the fence" is exactly what we should be trying to do! Striking a balance.

  • Wowbagger

    While on the subject of regulatory accountability I have heard rumors of some really hazardous chemicals being manufactured in the Industrial Park on the Monongahela River just up wind from Morgantown.

    • Wowbagger

      Oops, take two!

      While on the subject of regulatory accountability I have heard rumors of some really hazardous chemicals being manufactured in the Industrial Park on the Monongahela River just up wind from Morgantown and probably up stream from city water intakes.

      • Aaron


  • Shadow

    I am sure the Legal Vultures are standing in line to file their Class Action Suits on Monday.

    • RexCraigo

      As well they should be.

      You think otherwise?

    • Good

      I hope many class action suits are filed - it's the only weapon we have to keep these companies from running amok because they don't care if they poison the environment. Money is all they care about. I will point out the first lawsuit filed canes from BUSINESSES forced to shut down & loose millions in sales thanks to this company spilling poison into our water.

  • Jason

    The company is certainly neglinent, as it was their facility and their material. That being said, I see alot of good ol' boy politicians pointing fingers. Are you telling me the WV DEP, the EPA, and OSHA were legitimately inspecting a nd regulating this site??? I hear King Carper talk about it not being in compliance, not having detectors, etc. Is he not aware all these things are already required by state law? And all these inspectors found a facility that they could give their seal of approval??? Yet suddenly it's a horrible place with horrible ownership??? Yes, I see negligence on the company's part, but regulation and inspections need to be real, not winks and nods. This is just a nice national photo-op for guys like Kent Carper, so I'm sure he's thrilled. But do enjoy all the concern he's gonna feel while he's ignoring a gross failure on the part of our environmental regulatory agencies.

    • The bookman

      Much like UBB and Massey. Easy to paint Blankenship, what an easy target he is, but MSHA had a lot of culpability as well. I find it interesting that in all reports this tank is described as old, meaning it had been inspected many times before. There should be a paper trail of violations if it was in fact out of compliance, as long as the inspections were on the up and up. Glad I live in the mountains.

  • Joe

    And we are worried about the shale drillers?!

    Also, where is Manchin to save the day with a bipartisan plan?!

  • joe

    The question I haven't heard asked. Why are there hazardous materials 1 mile from the clean water source for the valley? Who issued permits and enforced compliance? I think the dep, water company etc have some explaining to do as well.

    • Wowbagger

      Good point!

      Preventing a facility like this from operating just upstream of the intake of what has to be the largest water system in West Virginia is not rocket science. As I recall DEP collects water consumption and usage information statewide and somebody should have realized that this could happen.

      DEP definitely has some regulatory responsibility for this disaster!

  • Truth

    Who needs the EPA when you have Freedom Industries looking out for us!

  • jeff

    Hard to tell how long we've been digesting that stuff.

  • unhappy in wv

    The licorice smell was observed late Wednesday night by several people. It was especially strong at the 77/79 split in Charleston. It appears this was leaking prior to 8 o'clock Thursday morning. Some one needs to check with the residents that live across the river at Bigley Avenue and see if anyone else smelled the odor Wednesday night!

  • zappa

    That had to be the worst press conference I have ever seen. Charles Ryan Associates should never have joined forces with Saten. You should have known better.

    PR companies try to make the best of the worst of situations. Do not believe anything you see from them.

  • Benthere

    From all indications the tank was flat bottom and did not have proper internal inspections. Expensive to do because it involves x-Ray. This why it was hard to find the went through the sand bed the tanks rest on right to the river. There should have been a low level alarm on the tank to alert the operators they were losing material. This was ether ignored or missing from the equipment. Either way the management of this facility is negligent, and in deep trouble.