Company behind West Virginia chemical spill files bankruptcy

The company blamed for a chemical spill that left 300,000 West Virginia residents without clean water filed for federal bankruptcy protection on Friday. 

Freedom Industries, which owns the tank that ruptured Jan. 9 and sent 7,500 gallons of chemicals into the Elk River, has been hit by a slew of lawsuits and a federal investigation in the week since the incident, according to news reports. 

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Residents of nine counties were told by state officials not to use water for any purpose except flushing toilets as they cleaned up the mess, which forced businesses to close. Water restrictions have since been lifted for all residents, but officials suggest that pregnant women avoid drinking the water.

The company, whose parent firm is Chemstream Holdings Inc. of Pennsylvania, filed for Chapter 11 protection, which will temporarily halt any lawsuits against Freedom.

Freedom used the bankruptcy filing to try to explain why the leak happened. The company said a water line break during a period of frigid temperatures may have caused "an object piercing upwards" to rupture the 35,000-gallon storage tank, sending the chemicals flowing into the state's largest water system.

Bankruptcy papers filed say "it is presently hypothesized" that this is what caused the leak, according to the Associated Press.

In response to the spill, West Virginia Democrats Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin have introduced legislation that would require state inspections of above-ground chemical storage facilities. It also would set standards for responding to emergencies and bulks up states' powers on oversight of chemical facilities.