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No-Show: There's An Odor Emanating from Freedom Industries, and It's Not Licorice

by Abby Zimet

Almost exactly a month after his company's chemical spill poisoned the water of 300,000 West Virginians, the ever-admirable president of Freedom Industries failed to show up - or even respond to the invite - at a hearing held by a House committee in the state's capitol to hear testimony from state health officials and answer angry residents' unanswered questions. Their key one - Is our water safe? - never got a firm answer from the assembled experts, who endlessly fudged on just what "safe" means. A typical response came from Dr. Letiticia E. Tierney, commissioner of the state Bureau of Public Health, who said the water met current standards but "everybody has a different definition of safe," noting, for instance, that some West Virginians think it's safe to jump more than 800 feet off a bridge each year on Bridge Day, and what's up with that? Freedom's missing-in-action president Gary Southern would have likely felt right at home amidst such prevarications, but he was evidently too busy hiding his "trade secrets," declining to tell residents anything about a second chemical that spilled, and working on the company's bankruptcy claim, quickly filed to shield them from the many lawsuits expected. Anyway, Southern has not done well with the public: Witness his press conference after the disaster, when he complained he was tired from his "long day" and then, in an act of perfect corporate obliviousness, blithely swigged some nice clean cold water, not seeming to realize he'd just trashed the nice clean cold water of hundreds of thousands of people who now, some pissed, were dreaming of pitchforks. Come to think on it, it's probably just as well he didn't show.

"(Gary Southern) chose not to be here today to answer for what his company has done to the people of West Virginia...(His) decision not to testify today compounds its gross misconduct, and is an absolute affront to every person impacted by its spill."

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