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Freedom Industries Owners Charged in West Virginia Chemical Spill

Actions which led to Elk River contamination violated Clean Water Act, court says

Freedom Industries former President Gary Southern was among four of the company's owners and managers charged on Wednesday.

Four Freedom Industries owners and managers have been charged with federal violations for their part in the January chemical spill in West Virginia, which saw a large portion of the Elk River contaminated with more than 7,000 gallons of hazardous waste, contaminated the drinking water of 300,000 people.

Dennis Farrell, William Tis, Charles Herzing, and Gary Southern have each been charged with three counts of violating the Clean Water Act, according to indictments (pdf) which were unsealed on Wednesday.

They were also charged with failing to meet a "reasonable standard of care" in running Freedom Industries. In many cases, the four men only approved funding for immediate repairs for damaged tanks, never considering funding for maintenance or improvement of storage facilities, the indictments said. The court document specifically noted instances in which the defendants ignored or refused to repair defects in dike walls, address drainage problems in containment areas, or develop storm-water pollution prevention plans or groundwater protection plans.

According to the Charleston Gazette:

The indictment says that Freedom and the four men failed to exercise reasonable care, failed to comply with the law, failed to follow their own internal operating procedures and failed to conform to common industry standards for safety and environmental compliance.

The company failed to inspect the tank that leaked, failed to maintain the secondary containment around the tank, failed to adequately train its employees, did not have spill prevention supplies on hand, did not have a spill prevention plan and failed to develop pollution prevention plans as required by its permit, the indictment says.

The second count against each man is for unlawful discharge of refuse matter, and the third count is for “negligent violation of permit condition."

Gary Southern, the President of Freedom Industries, also faces separate charges stemming from the investigation into the spill. Federal investigators allege that he committed numerous counts of fraud to protect his personal wealth, including bankruptcy fraud, wire fraud, and making false oaths. He was arrested last week, but not indicted until Wednesday.

According to the indictment, Southern further profited from the sale of goods to Freedom from other companies he owned.

Negligent violations of the Clean Water Act may be punished by fines of up to $25,000 a day or prison sentences of one year.

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