The final defendants, including the president of Freedom Industries, have pleaded guilty to a string of federal environmental crimes in connection with the 2014 Elk River chemical spill.
Gary Southern (53), the president of Freedom Industries at the time of the spill in January 2014, admitted to violating the federal Clean Water Act, negligently discharging refuse matter in violation of the federal Refuse Act, and failing to have a pollution prevention plan.
Dennis P. Farrell, (58), a former Freedom president and owner, pleaded guilty to violating the federal Refuse Act and failing to have a pollution prevention plan.
The company, and four other Freedom officials previously pleaded guilty to environmental crimes in March 2015.
Southern and Farrell’s criminal conducts included:
– Failure to properly maintain the containment area surrounding the tanks at the Elk River facility and to make necessary repairs to ensure the containment area would contain a chemical spill
– Failure to properly inspect a tank containing the chemical MCHM
– Failure to develop and implement a spill prevention, control and countermeasures plan
– Failure to develop and implement a stormwater pollution prevention plan and groundwater protection plan – both of which are requirements of a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit.
The Company and six former Freedom officials, including Farrell and Southern, were charged in December 2014 with various federal crimes related to the incident. The chemical leak near Charleston, West Virginia, contaminated the water supply for 300,000 residents – around one sixth of the state’s population.
Up to 100,000 gallons of a mixture of coal-cleaning chemicals leaked out of an old steel tank, pooled behind a poorly maintained secondary containment wall and leaked through and below the wall into the Elk.
The incident set in motion the creation and implementation of the Aboveground Storage Tank Act.
Southern faces a mandatory minimum of 30 days and up to three years in federal prison when he is sentenced on December 16, 2015. Farrell faces a mandatory minimum of 30 days and up to two years in federal prison when he is sentenced on December 14, 2015.
Freedom Industries filed for bankrupty shortly after the spill.
US Attorney Booth Goodwin says: ‘This should serve as a wakeup call to those who operate chemical storage facilities near our precious water resources.
‘This spill, which was completely preventable, happened to take place in this district, but it could have happened anywhere. If we don’t want it to happen again, we need to make it crystal clear that those who engage in this kind of criminal behaviour will be held accountable.’