The ex-president of Freedom Industries, Gary Southern, plead guilty on Wednesday to three of 15 environmental violation charges brought against him by the Justice Department for the January 2014 chemical spill in Charleston, WV.
Freedom operated a storage tank farm containing toxic chemicals which leaked 10,000 gallons of MCHM (a chemical used to clean coal) into the Elk River – upstream from intake pipes that provide drinking water to 300,000 local residents via a regional water facility.
The spill affected nine counties adjacent to Charleston, as residents and businesses went without tap water for days and weeks.
Southern, who co-founded Freedom in 1992, admitted to three federal misdemeanors: violation of the Clean Water Act, negligence in discharging hazardous materials, and failure of possessing a pollution protection plan.
The U.S. attorney for southern West Virginia, Booth Goodwin, explained why criminal charges were brought against six executives of Freedom Industries, but were not made to pay restitution for the damages.
“Executives are used to writing checks,” said Goodwin. “It sends a stronger message if they have to trade their three-piece suit for a prison jumpsuit.”
The company declared bankruptcy eight days after the spill however, and their assets will be sold off to finance clean up of the site.
Mr. Southern will be sentenced in December, and faces a maximum of three years in prison and up to $300,000 in fines.
[New York Times] [Reuters] [Photo courtesy inhabitat.com]