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. 

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 RockefellerJay RockefellerOvernight Tech: Trump nominates Dem to FCC | Facebook pulls suspected baseball gunman's pages | Uber board member resigns after sexist comment Trump nominates former FCC Dem for another term Obama to preserve torture report in presidential papers MORE and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinDemocrats scramble to contain Franken fallout  Overnight Finance: House passes sweeping tax bill in huge victory for GOP | Senate confirms banking regulator | Mulvaney eyed for interim head of consumer agency Overnight Regulation: Senators unveil bipartisan gun background check bill | FCC rolls back media regs | Family leave credit added to tax bill | Senate confirms banking watchdog MORE 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.