So let’s get this straight.

Freedom Industries figured it was safe to store a toxic chemical in a 70-plus year old tank a stone’s throw from the Elk River and a mile and a half from the intake valve for the water supply for the Kanawha Valley.

Then when the state DEP showed up at Freedom two weeks ago to investigate a strong licorice smell, at first company officials said they didn’t know anything about it.

A quick survey of the property found Crude MCHM spouting out of the ground from a leaking tank and draining into the river.  A slip-shod secondary containment system failed, but don’t worry; Freedom said it had plans to fix that.

Freedom finally phoned in the spill after the DEP had been on sight for over an hour.  West Virginia American Water made a decision not to close its intake, saying the loss of pressure would diminish fire protection.

That’s a decision worth more investigation in the coming weeks, but let’s get back to Freedom Industries.

A day after the spill, Freedom President Gary Southern held a brief news conference, notable for announcing that he had had “an extremely long day. I’m having trouble talking. I’d appreciate it if we could wrap this thing up.”

Southern and Freedom then dropped out of public view, leaving the public relations disaster to the water company, local, state and federal officials. At least one investigating agency, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, reported Freedom was cooperating with them.

But then Tuesday, Freedom dropped this bomb: Southern revealed to the DEP that the leaking tank contained a second previously undisclosed chemical, PPH.  About 300 gallons of the chemical, which is not as toxic as MCHM, was in the tank, but it was unclear how much got into the river, and the water supply.

The Charleston Gazette reports that when he clued in the DEP’s Mike Dorsey on the stunning news, Southern added, presumably without irony, “I’m going to have a terrible day today.”

You’re going to have a bad day?  Tell that to the 300,000 West Virginia American Water Company customers who are already on the verge of grabbing their pitchforks and torches.

An irate DEP ordered Freedom to disclose by 4 p.m. yesterday what else spilled in the river.  “Having this revelation so late in the game is completely unacceptable,” said DEP Secretary Randy Huffman.

Indeed it is. However, considering how Freedom Industries has handled this whole mess, it’s not terribly surprising.

 

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Comments

  • JoAnn

    Who will take the lead into looking into the fact buried in the article that West Virginia American Water company 's facility is such that it cannot close the intake valve that supplies water to 300,000 people and businesses because of diminshed water pressure? God forbid should a deadly, more lethal chemical leak into the Elk river one mile from the plant. As this chemical traveled down downstream, cities in its path were prepared. Intake valves were closed without fear of diminished water pressure for fire protection. WVAW company is woefully inadequate in providing water to its customers if as a company you have to make a decision which negatively impacts health and safety of a person's life.

    • The bookman

      The excuse given was that of diminished water pressure, but factually they hoped they would have been able to filter the contaminant...when they failed to filter the MCHM, they gave the reduced pressure excuse for contaminating their entire water delivery infrastructure, as well as every customer's home or business. A reduction in pressure available for fire suppression may be an excuse, but not an adequate or justifiable one given the consequences of exposing the system by their deliberate inaction. As a result, they will also share in culpability and resultant reparation to the public. My view of course.

  • John Pignato

    How about starting a crowd source fund raiser for extending the WVAM fresh water intake above Freedom Industries ? I'll contribute. So will thousands of others.

    John Pignato

    • The bookman

      Given the state has documented 47 possible industrial contamination point sources on the Elk, where would you like it placed? Moving the intake is not the answer. Securing hazardous and toxic chemicals by enforcement of clear regulations regarding the storage, production, and transport of the chemicals is the answer. Keep the contaminants out of the water and the intake location doesn't matter. If you want to do a fundraiser, maybe the DEP could use the money. They're gonna need it!

  • mntnman

    Perhaps some jail time??? Generally, that would get most peoples attention. There should be consequences for leaders of businesses when they neglect to the point of impacting public safety. Also, perhaps, taking $$ not just from their company, but also from them.

    Until the officers of companies learn that they are personally in harms way when they risk other peoples health, safety and financial stability, they will continue to do what they chose to enrich themselves. I say jail time and penalties so severe it impacts their financial situation personally. A few examples might change things. Perhaps not, but justice demands more than what we currently do.

  • 2XLPatriot

    Why isn't the brass from Freedom industries in handcuffs and shackles? They should be placed in gallows in the capital rotunda and a long line of West Virginians taking turns giving them the whacks they deserve! 'Ole Earl Ray and Danny the Mayor are going to act upset, but as always, will find a way to legislate this thing to death with no real positive outcome. Pitchforks and torches would be too light in my opinion.

  • Curmudgeon

    These comments by the Freedom President are similar to the ICG Sago mine disaster. If you recall, the spokesmen for ICG said something like "welcome to the worst day of my life."
    These big-shot executives think it is all about them. These were the kids in school who would be first in line to the water fountain and slurp the water for two minutes.

  • TheFungoKnows

    A quick search of the WV Secretary of State's business lookup page reveals the officers of Freedom Industries.
    Gary Southern-President & Treasurer.
    David McCombie-VP.
    Carl Kennedy II-Incorporator.

    Southern and McCombie have no WV addresses. Kennedy is living in FL now.

    It also reveals that Freedom Industries merged with 3 other Kanawha Valley Companies on 12/31/2013.
    Wonder if those 3 are run as ineptly as Freedom has been?

  • C J Mcardle

    We cannot call off school everytime it freezes. Parents have jobs too and cannot stay home every time school is called off. We are a state that caters to those who do not work and teachers who want the day off more than the kids. It is not right and promotes laziness . I walked home from school about a mile every school day when the busses did not go or were late. School was never called off for the weather in WV like it is now. Kids need an education and if their parents do not get them to school so be it. All cannot be affected by a few that will not make it to school. This school administration in Mon County rarely makes a good decision in favor of the students.

    • Ed Wouldn't

      Sooo drinking the chemicals made you post this non sequiter, gotcha.

    • Ron "from Morgantown"

      Good point but at the wrong exit , you need the next bus stop entitled " Do we call off school too often " . Thanks have a nice day .

    • DJ

      Guarantee you teachers don't always want the day off more than the kids. Sometimes we really wish school wasn't canceled. Impossible to catch up, teach all that needs to be taught in a certain amount of time, before standardized tests, etc. I (teacher) have heard recent cancelations primarily due to: a) roads not cleared, and b)problems with buses (doors frozen suit, special fuel getting gooey, not flowing). Know for a fact sometimes students whose buses can't get to them choose (with approval of parents) to stay home rather than accept car ride from friend. Personally, I think HAVING school Fri. was the right idea. Why should all not have classes because some buses can't pick up some students? And why aren't roads cleared in a timely and efficient manner? Can't blame administrators and teachers for that.

  • Janet

    Another example of irresponsibility from corporations who insist that regulations are burdensome and hurting business. Now the Governor has dumped the responsibility onto West Virginia citizens to determine whether or not the water is safe.

    While corporations claim to be people too how is it they are allowed to destroy the lives of those who were born from a human and cause irreparable damage to our earth? They are pieces of paper created in a computer and delivered by a printer. Corporations like this one are a sad representation of what could be done well. And, the Governor should do his job for his people - all of them!

    • Hippy dippy Libby

      You should be the mayor of No Jobsville. Make Hips your city jester as he obviously has a knack for being silly.

      • Uncle Unctuous

        Gary? Gary Southern? Is that you?

  • Harpers Ferry

    Earl Ray likes his pay! Earl Ray is GREAT for businesses, but bad for West Virginians. Who cares about West Virginians anyway. West Virginia, more similar to El Salvador or an African nation than one might think.

  • Bob Melphis

    When you have a state DEP who's enforcement policies favor the coal industry instead of protecting the citizens no one should be surprised by what has happened.

  • GregG

    You've got one thing right Hoppy, many are on the "verge of grabbing their pitchforks and torches" and going after Freedom industries. But what about all the other Companies that are contaminating our ground water, rivers, streams, air and ground. How many locations just in the Kanawha Valley alone have we seen massive amounts of equipment "cleaning" dirt that some business contaminated and then walked off? How many people that are upset over "their" water being contaminated have ridiculed those in the Marcellus Shale area for being concerned about their water? And what is even more pathetic, nothing is going to change. A culture has been created where big business is God. While one business, Freedom enterprises, has fallen from grace thousands more are operating under "business as usual". This would be a great time for many to rise up from the foot of the big business throne, but sadly they won't.

    • TheFungoKnows

      Well, maybe "We The People" don't see Big Business as the enemy. We see the liberal progressive agenda as more of an enemy than anything!! Liberal polictical policies and social policies are crippling this country. While Big Business gives us jobs and health care insurance, the liberals have ruined the health care industry, the education system, the tax code, and everything else they touch.

      • GregG

        I'm fully aware that you don't see Big Business as the enemy. It would be difficult to see anything when ones head in permanently buried in the sand.

        • Wowbaggers

          And the politicos are blameless and innocent?

    • TD's understudy

      Amen brother, down with the greedy no good scoundrels. The government should take over all business that way no gets rich off the working class.

      • Shadow

        You forgot to say that everyone could stay home, watch tv, comment on the internet,etc. and do nothing that incurred any risk to anyone as long as we could sell out Country to China.

  • Jim N Charleston

    Skippy,

    You and every other 'news' person should be praying to a Freedom Industries shrine and be thanking them for the spill. They've allowed you to do how much air time as well as print in your daily rant on this same topic.
    Everyone gets it. They've made mistakes and 'WATER now BAD!!!' 300,000 people figured that out when the spill first happened.
    You guys/gals are as lazy as the sports 'journalists' still replaying Richard Sherman's rant to Erin Andrews from Sunday and talking about how uncomfortable they felt watching it. Everyone got that by day 1 of the story & after that it was old news.

    If you're gonna keep this going, why not go after the public service commission for allowing WV American H2O to buy up, monopolize, & close all the smaller water plants and have everyone's eggs in one basket?

    All I got
    I'm Jim N Charleston for a few more days

    • Hop'sHip

      All you got ain't much, as usual, Jimmie.

      • TD's understudy

        Amen, lil Jimmy the Cricket likes to talk without much to say.

    • Uncle Unctuous

      " . . . why not go after the public service commission for allowing WV American H2O to buy up, monopolize, & close all the smaller water plants and have everyone's eggs in one basket?"

      But do so for no more than a couple weeks, then shut up about it. Otherwise, Jim might get annoyed and no one wants that.

  • Bob

    About 40 years ago the EPA put into place a containment program for above ground storage tanks. Plans had to be written and inspection and fines were put into place if the law wasn't complied with. Where has the EPA been - too busy closing down coal fired power plants and coal mines in WV to follow their own regulation? Now WV will try and supersede the EPA and plants will have another group of inspectors to deal with.

  • The environmetalist

    Look folks, the end-game here isn't to prevent this from happening again-- so sit back, relax, drink a tall cool glass of bottled water and watch us do our thing.
    By the time this is over we will have so many regulations in place you won't be able to wash your car.

    Now All Aboard the Freedom Train-- Next stop No-Industyville

    • Hop'sHip

      No-Industyville? Is that just beyond We-took-all-you-got-and-left-you-the-dusttown?

      • TD's understudy

        Thats right, for far too long companies have come through making money and leaving the rest of us with less than crumbs.

      • The environmentalist

        No. The town you speak of is just up the line a little further, right after Obamaville.

        • Hop'sHip

          I think Obamaville is after Bushland, where all the paved roads lead to the gated community and everyone else is detoured to the dirt road which leads you over a cliff. If you servive that, the trip through Obamaville should be boring but easy. I think the residents of that gated community in Bushland are looking for someone to direct traffic. There is no pay but you get all the boot polish you can lick. Maybe you should apply. You seem eminently qualified. But I understand Fungo already has his application in.

          • Environmentalist

            YOU, think? Not hardly

          • Hop'sHip

            Yes, I really do. You should try it. Of course it does require a functioning brain. Never mind. Just go back to watching Fox and Friends.

  • CaptainQ

    Well Hoppy, is this surprising to anyone?

    Freedom Industries, if it was a single human being, reminds me of one of those many 'suspects' when initially apprehended on any random 'Cops' episode who tells the police lies and half truths before being pressed further, even when they're caught with the evidence on them. Two chemicals instead of one? Did they not think the DEP would pick up on that during the investigation?

    I thought it was also interesting that according to WSAZ-TV, Governor Tomblin, Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin all received campaign contributions from J Clifford Forrest, head of Freedom Industries. (I'd post the link, but I'm afraid my post would be 'moderated' if I did) Earl Ray's "I didn't know that" reaction was the worst, at least the latter two on the list said they were going to give their donated funds away to charity.

    I'm sure this aspect of the story will get more discussion as the 2014 Election season begins (at least it will for Capito).

    As for Freedom Industries' 'selective memory', this is hardly a shocking revelation. Makes you wonder what else they're NOT telling us.

    • The environmetalist

      Captain,

      Why so shocked Freedom has such a selective memory?

      What does the lawyer say: admit to nothing until you are caught; say as little as possible until you have no choice.

    • Wowbagger

      Captain,

      This is standard procedure under crony capitalism. You give money to all viable candidates so they owe you a favor. Of course sometimes it is the politicos shaking down business.

      Same reason why the establishments of both parties favor amnesty for illegals. Both parties think it will get them votes AND a lot of corporate interests are paying big bucks to get new low wage workers, both high tech and manual laborers. Diluting a hostile voting public is a big plus too!

      See Peter Sacweitzer's new book Extortion to see how the politicos have figured out how to control the process.

      We need to clean house at all levels.

      • Hop'sHip

        So bagger. Do you now agree that the Citizens United decision was a disaster for governance in the public interest, greasing the skids for what you call "crony capitalism"? If the Peter Sacweitzer you refer to is Peter Schweitzer of the Hoover Institution I'm sure it blames everything on the progressive movement.

        • TheFungoKnows

          Progressives are more of an enemy to the US than al-qaeda ever will be!!
          Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

        • TD's understudy

          What he said.

        • Wowbagger

          Hippie,

          Pardon my spelling error, my old Android tablet has a squirrely keyboard app. I do know how to spell and sometimes even use big words. It would be nice if one could do minor edits on this board like some others.

          Yes, that Peter Schweitzer, and no he is quite non-partizan in his findings. His full title says it all:

          EXTORTION: How Politicians Extract Your Money, Buy Votes, and Line Their own Pockets.

          He pretty much covers the spectrum. He also covers how some of the former crony capitalists have been shocked at how adept the career politicians have become at extracting money. Citizen's United simply allowed all of the politicos right, center, and left to up the ante. You might consider reading the book as it da*ns pretty much all of them.

          I would be amazed if some of the more egregious techniques haven't been picked up by some West Virginia politicos. Occasionally I have been around some WV politicos on their native turf and have observed apparently odd behavior that I now suspect is related to some extortion scheme or other.

          As far as I'm concerned as long as the rules are the same for all political entities including unions, the Koch's, George Soros, Peter Lewis (Progressive Insurance), Michael Bloomberg, Google, Microsoft, Chevron, BP, you, and me I don't care what the rules are.

          I would suggest the book to you as will find plenty of fodder within the covers (if you still read paper).

          • Wowbagger

            See there it dropped a you!