News Feature | February 6, 2014

W. Virginia Chemical Spill Culprit May Evade Lawsuits

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

Enviroboat

The major chemical spill in West Virginia is entering a contentious new arena: the courts. 

"Freedom Industries, the company responsible for a chemical leak that ruined 300,000 West Virginians' drinking water, is facing several local and federal lawsuits for their screw-up," PolicyMic reported.

But there's a twist: The company may not be held accountable anytime soon. That's because Freedom Industries just went bankrupt. 

"On Friday, Freedom filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, revealing the company owes $3.6 million to its top 20 creditors and more than $2.4 million in unpaid taxes to the IRS," PolicyMic said. 

The nature of the bankruptcy filing may allow the company to skirt some lawsuits for the time being. 

"The filing puts a hold on all of the lawsuits filed against Freedom Industries. Since the leak last week, about a mile and a half upriver from West Virginia Water American's plant in Charleston, about 25 lawsuits have been filed against Freedom in Kanawha Circuit Court. The company also faces a federal lawsuit," West Virginia's Gazette-Mail reported

The bankruptcy filing amounted to a search "for shelter in the face of liability lawsuits," according to Bloomberg Businessweek

The filing also revealed that the company has some early ideas about how it will eventually defend itself in court, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. The company "has a strategy for spreading the blame." 

The strategy involves moving some fault onto the local water infrastructure. 

"It is presently hypothesized that a local water line break [caused] the ground beneath a storage tank at the Charleston facility to freeze in the extraordinary frigid temperatures in the days immediately preceding” the leak, the filing said, according Bloomberg Businessweek.

But Bloomberg was not sure that claim would hold up. 

"Hard to say if the court will buy that. Shouldn’t steel tanks containing dangerous chemicals be able to withstand the consequences of winter weather?" the report said. 

For more on the drinking water supply, check out Water Online's Drinking Water Analysis Solution Center

Image credit: "An environmental enforcement boat patrols in front of the chemical spill at Freedom Industries," © 2014 iwasaround, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

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