For Freedom Industries, a Small Price to Pay for Poisoning West Virginia Water

  • submit to reddit

A worker moves a drilling machine around storage tanks at Freedom Industries storage facility in Charleston, Virginia in January. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Last week, Freedom Industries — the now bankrupt company that was responsible for a chemical spill that tainted the drinking water of hundreds of thousands of West Virginians — learned that there will be a small price to pay for its negligence.

Kevin Conlon reports for CNN:

A settlement was reached Friday with the company at the center of a January chemical leak that contaminated the water supply for 300,000 West Virginians, according to an attorney for the plaintiffs.

Freedom Industries Inc. would transfer $2.9 million into a trust fund that will be used “for the greater good,” according to Anthony Majestro, one of the attorneys in the class-action lawsuit.

“Things like chemical testing and medical studies,” said Majestro, who called the trust fund “a mechanism to answer some of the things that are still unanswered.”

That works out to roughly $10 per person affected by the spill of the coal-processing chemical MCHM, or around $1.00 for each day they went without water.

According to Ken Ward, Jr., of the Charleston Gazette, “ documents made public so far indicate that one condition to the settlement is that Freedom’s remaining environmental remediation payments, excluding costs for legal help and consultants from the firm Arcadis, do not exceed $850,000.”

The proposed settlement would resolve claims for all individuals and businesses in the area affected by the leak between January 9 and 19. According to Ward, it would not settle suits “against individuals related to Freedom Industries, such as cases that name former company officials as defendants, and it also would not resolve leak-related lawsuits filed against West Virginia American Water or against MCHM-manufacturer Eastman Chemical.”

Earlier this month, The Gazette reported that the federal government has so far levied a total of $11,000 in fines stemming from the incident — “$7,000 for keeping storage tanks containing crude MCHM behind a diked wall that was not liquid tight,” and “$4,000 for failing to have standard railings on an elevated platform.”

Last week, the poorly maintained tanks that leaked the chemicals were destroyed in what Freedom’s Chief Restructuring Officer, Mark Welch, called a “visible end” to the company.

The good news, as Dana Kuhnline reported in March, is that the spill unleashed a torrent of grassroots organizing in a state where many tend to be hostile toward activism against the chemical industry.

Joshua Holland was a senior digital producer for and now writes for The Nation. He’s the author of The Fifteen Biggest Lies About the Economy (and Everything Else the Right Doesn’t Want You to Know about Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America) (Wiley: 2010), and host of Politics and Reality Radio. Follow him on Twitter: @JoshuaHol.
  • submit to reddit