Company at center of W.Va. spill is indicted

The Department of Justice on Wednesday announced the indictment of the company behind a January chemical spill in West Virginia, and six officials.

Freedom Industries Inc. ran the facility that spilled a coal-cleaning chemical into the Elk River in Charleston.

The spill left roughly 300,000 residents in West Virginia without drinking water for five days in January.

“Just a mile upstream from Charleston’s primary source of drinking water, the conditions at the Freedom Industries facility were not only grievously unacceptable, but unlawful,” said Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderEric Holder: 'There are grounds for impeachment' in Mueller report Prosecutor appointed by Barr poised to enter Washington firestorm Dems struggle to make Trump bend on probes MORE.  

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Air quality officials from the state and Environmental Protection Agency discovered the spill, which Freedom Industries did not self-report.

Holder scolded the company for allegedly putting the entire population “needlessly at risk.”

“As these actions make clear, such conduct cannot, and will not, be tolerated. These law enforcement actions send an unambiguous message: that compliance with environmental safety standards is an obligation, not a choice," Holder said.

Former Freedom President Gary Southern is among those charged in the indictment, specifically with “negligent discharge of a pollutant in violation of the Clean Water Act, violating an environmental permit” and more.

If convicted of all charges, Southern would face up to 68 years in prison, Justice said.

“It’s hard to overstate the disruption that results when 300,000 people suddenly lose clean water,” said U.S. attorney Booth Goodwin.

“If we don’t want it to happen again, we need to make it crystal clear that those who engage in the kind of criminal behavior that led to this crisis will be held accountable,” Goodwin added.

The alleged misconduct in the indictment against the five other officials and the company also includes: failure to properly manage the area surrounding the tanks holding the chemicals; failure to properly inspect the tanks; and failure to implement spill prevention.

The spill spurred an outcry among lawmakers for chemical safety reforms.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) called it a “wake-up call” and pushed for legislation aimed at preventing chemical spills.