A company known as Freedom Industries is responsible for a chemical spill that left over 15 percent of the population of West Virginia with no source of water. The spill stretched for more than 1500 miles, impacting 9 WV counties. Big questions about who owns Freedom Industries and what the company was doing, are only now starting to surface.
Freedom Industries merged with 3 other companies, on December 31, 2013.
At the time of the spill, Freedom Industries, in its current form, had only existed for just over a week. It seems that the company was involved in a merger, and joined with 3 other companies on the last day of 2013. According to the Charleston Gazette, Freedom Industries merged with Etowah River Terminal, Poca Blending and Crete Technologies. The chemical spill took place at the Etowah River Terminal, which is in the city of Charleston, WV.
Details about the company’s officials are sketchy.
Records of ownership and top level positions at Freedom Industries are also sketchy. The company was formed in 1992, by Gary Southern and Carl L. Kennedy II. Kennedy is listed as the ‘Incorporator’ with the WV Secretary of State, however the Charleston Gazette was told on Friday that Kennedy has not been with the company for years.
According to the Charleston Gazette, Dennis P. Farrel is listed as the President of Freedom Industries, on the company’s website. But Farrell’s name does not appear on any papers filed with the Secretary of State. A woman answering the phones there on Friday would only refer to him as “an executive” of Freedom Industries. Farrel is listed on Secretary of State filings as the ‘organizer’ of Etowah River Terminal, the site where the spill took place.
Is this a storage site or not?
Tom Aluise, a spokesman for the WV DEP told the Guardian that the site does not have to undergo state inspections.
“The facility is strictly a storage facility, with storage tanks. There is nothing made there. There is nothing processed there. We don’t inspect that.”
Aluise said in a statement to the Guardian.
The company’s website says this:
“Freedom Industries is a full service producer of specialty chemicals for the mining, steel, and cement industries. Founded in 1986 and located in Charleston, WV, Freedom Industries is a leading producer of freeze conditioning agents, dust control palliatives, flotation reagents, water treatment polymers and other specialty chemicals.”
The website goes on to say that:
“The Charleston plant, Etowah River Terminal, is located on the Elk River and accessible by barge and truck. With 4,000,000 gallons of storage capacity and two computer controlled truck loading stations, Etowah River Terminal can process large volumes of chemical rapidly, and cost effectively.”
This statement on the Freedom Industries website, which claims that the Charleston site can “process large volumes of chemical rapidly, and cost effectively,” conflicts with the DEP’s assertion that “there is nothing processed there.”
How can the WV DEP know what’s going on, if the site has never been inspected?
Who will be held responsible?
The number of people with severe health symptoms due to the chemical spill has been steadily rising, since early Friday. The Guardian reported that 671 people had called WV poison control with symptoms of chemical exposure. Only 6 had emergency treatment, as of Friday, at 4 pm. That number had gone up by more than 100, by the end of the day on Friday. At least 70 people were in need of emergency help on Friday, due to the chemical spill.
The number of people reported to have symptoms of chemical exposure, such as nausea and uncontrolled vomiting, diarrhea, sore throat, headache, dizziness and difficulty breathing is expected to rise over the next few days.
The Guardian also reported that at least 54 cases of animal exposure had already been recorded, as of mid day on Friday. These are presumed to be cases of pets. At this time there is no reliable data on affected wildlife. The long term impact of the spill on the environment is another area that has yet to be touched on.
The economic losses that are sure to result from a chemical spill of this size, have also yet to be calculated. As days pass and businesses across the region are forced to remain closed, the financial toll climbs. But who will be held responsible for these losses?
Farrel’s girlfriend wants the citizens of West Virginia to feel sorry for Freedom Industries executives.
Instead of being concerned about the suffering of WV residents, Farrel’s girlfriend tried to paint him as a victim, in a public facebook post on Friday.
“I’m not asking for anyone’s sympathy but a little empathy wouldn’t hurt.” she wrote.
She went to emphasize how this is all just no big deal. “And just so you know, the boys at the plant made and drank coffee this morning! I showered and brushed my teeth this morning and I am just fine!”
She also stressed her frustration with the pesky public and media, who seem to have no right to criticize or ask questions.
“There has been criticism from many about how Freedom Industries is handling this. Denny is not a spokesperson and has no desire to be. His expertise was much needed elsewhere. If he had taken the time to talk to the numerous media networks, giving statements, he would not have been able to react to the situation and perform his job accordingly. It wasn’t his decision to hire a spokesperson and it isn’t his job to be one.”
As far as what WV can expect in terms of information and help from the officials at Freedom Industries, my guess is they can expect the same treatment that the residents of the Gulf Coast, Mayflower AR, and Kalamazoo MI were given.
The coal industry has turned what John Denver once called “almost heaven,” into a place that is looking more and more like almost hell. In the long run the state’s losses are sure to replace any gains. It seems time for the state to shake off companies that shred mountain tops and destroy land and water all in the name of profit.