Following the Jan. 9 toxic spill that shut down drinking-water supplies to 300,000 people, West Virginia regulators have cited Freedom Industries Inc. for numerous violations. Lawyers are filing lawsuits against the company, and state and federal probes are continuing.
Water service returned to about 75% of West Virginia American Water customers in Charleston by Jan. 16, though pregnant women were advised by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control to continue drinking bottled water because little is known about effects of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM).
Freedom, operator of the Elk River terminal where the spill occurred, moved most of the chemicals to its Poca Blending operation in Nitro, W.Va. However, that site's storage also violates state laws, so the Freedom has until Jan. 23 to transfer the chemicals.
The state Dept. of Environmental Protection cited Freedom for failure to provide secondary containment for potentially hazardous chemicals, poor record-keeping, having no record of employee training since 2004 and failure to provide discharge monitoring reports.
Freedom is the subject of state and federal investigations. President Gary Southern has had little comment, and a spokeswoman was not available.
The state Legislature was in session during the crisis, which could lead to stronger legislation, says Angela Rosser, executive director of the West Virgina Rivers Coalition.
"One of the baffling questions is, why in the world was this dangerous chemical stored so closely to the river, especially one and a half miles from the biggest water system in the state?" Rosser says.
Plaintiffs' attorneys are citing costs as high as $500 million, but John Deskins, director of the West Virginia Bureau of Economic Research, downplays that figure. "The long-run effect on the state will be small," he says.