Koch Connection to West Virginia Chemical Spill Company

Chemical_spill_closed_Foo_ConnerA chemical spill in West Virginia last week cut off access to safe tap water across nine counties, and although it involved a chemical used by the coal industry, state officials have been pushing back strongly against suggestions by reporters that the disaster had anything to do with the state’s dominant industry — coal.

However, the fact is that the chemical industry is also very important to the West Virginia economy, and it is heavily entwined with the coal industry, which requires a substantial quantity of chemicals at various stages before it gets from the mine to its point of use.

Clearly, the spill — which affected 300,000 people and shut down restaurants, schools, hospitals and hundreds of other businesses and institutions — is closely related to the state’s dependency on the coal industry, despite protestations to the contrary.

That, in turn, undermines the coal industry’s insistent positioning of coal as a “clean” fuel. While new technology has reduced pollutants from burning coal, everything around the burn point is still status quo, from destructive mining to fly ash disposal.

With that scenario in mind, let’s take a look at how the disaster is playing out in the local paper, the Charleston Gazette (highly recommended: follow reporter Ken Ward, Jr. on Twitter, @Kenwardjr).

The West Virginia chemical spill and the Koch connection

The industrialist Koch brothers have become notorious for their holdings in coal and other fossil fuels, their aggressive promotion of global warming denial and their efforts to monkeywrench environmental progress.

What hasn’t garnered as much attention is their involvement in secondary industries on which the coal industry depends.

Charleston Gazette reporter David Gutman tracked down the Koch connection to the chemical spill in an article over the weekend titled “Freedom executive Kennedy had felonies.”

The full article is worth a read for the insights it provides about the top executives for Freedom Industries, the company responsible for the spill, but the relevant detail involves the source of the company’s chemicals.

The spill involved Crude MCHM, a foaming agent used to clean coal. According to Gutman, that’s not the only coal-related chemical stored at Freedom Industries. The company is also a distributor for a line of coal processing chemicals called Talon, which is a product of the Koch company Georgia-Pacific Chemicals LLC.

Update 1:30PST 1/23: In 2008, GP selected Freedom Industries to distribute its Talon line of coal processing products, but Talon was not one of the products involved in the spill.

Update 8:40PST 1/23: Georgia Pacific has contacted us and many members of the media to let us know that none of their products were stored by Freedom Industries.

Nine counties, one water company

Another interesting coal-related point that has surfaced thanks to the Charleston Gazette is the trend toward greater reliance on a centralized, privately-owned water company in areas that traditionally relied on individual wells.

Reporter Ken Ward, Jr. provides a statement from the organization Appalachian Voices for some insight on that:

An increasing number of private wells in southwestern and central West Virginia, where the spill occurred, have been contaminated by decades of coal mining and processing. One result has been an ongoing expansion of municipal water systems to rural communities that would otherwise rely on well water.

A missed opportunity

Another key item unearthed by Ward occurred back in 2010, when the federally-managed U.S. Chemical Safety Board issued a set of urgent recommendations for state officials to improve the prevention of chemical accidents in the Kanawha Valley region, where Freedom Industries is located.

Here was the response, as reported by Ward:

…the proposal has gone nowhere. The state Department of Health and Human Resources hasn’t stepped in to provide the legal authority the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department needs to start such a program. And Kanawha County officials never funded the plan, and seldom mention that the CSB recommendation was even made.

In terms of national news, the spill is already winding down, to the extent that Jason Linkins of The Huffington Post could find not one mention of it on the important Sunday morning news shows, although Bao-Bao, the new panda cub at the Smithsonian National Zoo, merited a mention.

However, the next time you see the words “clean coal,” keep the West Virginia spill in mind.

Image (cropped): Georgia Pacific logo by dsearls

Follow me on Twitter and Google+.

Tina writes frequently for Triple Pundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

22 responses

  1. Clean Coal via Mountain Top Removal and Chemical Washing – Clean Natural Gas via Chemical Fracking – Privatized Water Systems – Bought up Politicians. A Perfect Storm.

  2. “The spill involved Crude MCHM, a foaming agent used to clean coal.
    According to Gutman, that’s not the only coal-related chemical stored at
    Freedom Industries. The company is also a distributor for a line of
    coal processing chemicals called Talon, which is a product of the Koch
    company Georgia-Pacific Chemicals LLC.”

    Uh, why is a chemical used by Freedom Industries, but *not* involved in the chemical spill, but supplied by a Koch company, relevant to the chemical spill? Should we also complain about SC Johnson because they are the source for Windex that is probably also used by Freedom Industries for cleaning their windows but not involved in the chemical spill? Why does it matter who the distributors or manufacturers are for other chemicals in use by Freedom Industries if their chemicals aren’t involved in the current chemical spill?

    1. How do you know the Talon products aren’t involved in the spill? Georgia Pacific’s Talon mining products are all proprietary formulations. They contain a mixture of chemicals. Who is to say that their products don’t contain 4-MCHM and that the 4-MCHM is just the only one you can smell? It would make sense, since Freedom is an exclusive distributor of Talon products for eight states, that their contract with GP contained an exclusionary clause that prohibited Freedom from selling competitors’ products.

      1. And even if they are involved, what would GPC’s responsibility entail? Nothing. They are 2 separate companies. Why aren’t you misplacing blame on Kodak Chemical since they are the manufacturer of the MCHM? Talon may contain MCHM but it isn’t made at Freedom (just distributed) so whether Talon contains any MCHM is irrelevant to both your new argument and the original argument, both of which attempt to place some kind of blame on GPC merely because some billionaires are eventually involved in the business structure. And yet you don’t even look at Kodak. Why?

        1. Your politics are clouding your reasoning. The critical point you’re missing is that if it’s really a Talon product that contained 4-MCHM that spilled, there are OTHER chemicals in their mixes and no one knows what they are! Is everyone just assuming it was only crude 4-MCHM because Freedom said so, or because that’s the only chemical you can smell?

        2. No, your politics are clouding your reasoning. It doesn’t matter *whose* chemicals spilled. It matters *who* spilled them. Company A who is a manufacturer isn’t responsible for Company B who distributes it and has a leak of Company A’s product.

          In this case Company B is Freedom Industries. No one else is responsible except for the company who had the leak. You don’t go blaming other companies who merely manufacture or distribute the chemical because they have nothing to do with the company who actually had the leak. You are so fixated on Talon you still haven’t answered why, with your logic, you aren’t going to place any blame on Kodak Chemical since it is the manufacturer of MCHM.

          In addition, if there are other chemicals in MCHM that have different manufacturers why would you only mention GPC in your blame game right now? Your response will be “well, I don’t know for sure if there are other chemicals in the mix so I can’t blame anyone else” and I would say “then don’t involve the Koch brothers until you know that Talon is in the mix.”

          You can’t prove yet that Talon is even in MCHM but yet you are wanting to blame GPC and, by even further indirection, the Koch brothers. But there is no proof that Talon was in MCHM; you are still speculating. Nor is it sensible to even blame a company who wasn’t the company who had the leak so even if Talon is in MCHM you are still barking up the wrong tree.

          Am I even getting through to you yet concerning your lack of logic here?

          If Freedom Industries sold hot dogs and they had a bad batch of Oscar Mayer hotdogs that made people sick. Would you find it sensible to blame Heinz as well, whether or not it was proven *at this point* that the ketchup on the hotdogs was also bad? And if it was later proven that only the hot dogs were bad then would it still be sensible to you to blame Heinz for *anything*?

        3. If the situation weren’t so dire, your reply would be funny. Instead, it’s just sad because you don’t seem to understand the situation. I am entirely unconcerned with blame at this point – for some reason, though, you are.

          Let me explain: If the ruptured tank leaked pure MCHM, which is what Freedom says it was, then what officials and the people need to be concerned about are the toxic effects of MCHM.

          If Freedom wasn’t telling the truth – and we have no reason to believe them, at this point – and the tank really contained a Talon product that includes MCHM as an ingredient, then the officials and the people need to be worried about what the other ingredients are in that product. That’s because Talon products are MIXTURES of a number of different chemicals. MCHM could be an ingredient in Talon products. MCHM all by itself is just … well, MCHM. That’s the reason that it’s necessary to know what was really in the ruptured tank. An exclusive distributor of Talon products for 8 states is likely to have Talon products in their tanks. The officials and the people need to know if it was really a Talon product so that they can learn about the toxicity of the other ingredients. Got it?

        4. Blame was the entire reason why the author of this article felt the need to mention that the Koch brothers are involved in this by at least 3 degrees of separation and treated that as being the equivalent of being directly responsible for the spill or at least treating the indirect involvement of the Koch brothers as being anything of relevance. That’s why I am discussing this from a blame perspective rather than what was in the chemicals. Discussing the chemical makeup of the spill for treating those who get sick is a different issue than the purpose of this article.

          You may only be concerned about treating people and that’s fine but that’s not the focus of this article nor of my posts.

        5. I am not the author of this article and you DID ask me, “Why aren’t you misplacing blame…?” Where blame should be placed was the whole point of contention in your posts to me. So, I’ll apologize to you when I get the impression that it’s actually people other than the Kochs that you care about.

        6. I know I asked you about blame. That was the theme of this article and the premise was that there is some kind of evil connection to the Koch brothers. Since you seemed to be riding on the coattails of the idea that Talon could be involved I had a legitimate question by asking you why aren’t you also questioning Kodak Chemical’s involvement.

          Discussion about the people who were affected by this chemical spill is a separate topic and, again, not the focus of the article. If that’s what you want to discuss then you can find an article discussing that but that is off topic for purposes of this discussion. So don’t accuse me of not caring just because I’m trying to stay on topic while you are not. I don’t care at all about the Koch’s. What I do care about, in the context of this article, is correctly placing blame. If you don’t want to talk about blame then you shouldn’t be posting on this thread. I would have thought that to be obvious but apparently not. I’m surprised you aren’t also mentioning other irrelevant topics such as the overarching use of coal in the first place.

          Lastly, it was good chatting with you but I’ll have to end the discussion here before I waste more time. You aren’t addressing my points but rather accusing me of not caring about the people affected because I never mentioned them in my posts. Apparently you haven’t learned debate skills because you wanted to move on to another topic before the previous disagreement was resolved. You can’t resolve disagreements if you can’t resolve each one completely before tackling the next one. When a topic of caring about the affected people becomes the topic of discussion I’m sure you’ll be ready to move on to another topic at that point in order to maintain consistency with mentioning things that are off topic, thereby never accomplishing anything. good night

        7. Stop being a troll, in love with the Kochs! How much are they paying you, to write such crap? You aren’t THAT STUPID, that you are doing it for free, are ya? Georgia-Pacific supplied the chemicals that were “spilled”! And the Koch’s own that company. Look it up. By the way, HOW many gallons were spilled? Seeing how Freedom-sucks Industries gave more than “1” answer, you know, just like BP did in the Gulf “spill”! And the asshats filed for bankruptcy, so they won’t have to pay a penny for what they did! And you DON’T care about those that are affected! Are you going to blame Coca-Cola, if they had “Coke” pop, or soda on the premises? IDIOT!

        8. GPC didn’t supply the chemicals that were spilled. Kodak Chemical is the supplier of the chemical that was spilled. Have you chosen to not do your research on that? GPC supplies Talon but no where is it mentioned in this article that Talon was spilled or is an ingredient in the chemical that was spilled. Until one or both of those things is proven true then GPC can be said to not be legally liable *or* involved.

          Please quote my statement where I said I didn’t care about the people affected.

          I’m not going to blame anyone but Freedom Industries because no one else is responsible for how they handle their chemicals; not the distributors and not the manufacturers from which they get their chemicals. So *I* wouldn’t blame Coca-Cola but it sounds like you would since you want to blame GPC despite their not having any control over what Freedom Industries does.

        9. In other words, while your concern is to protect a couple billionaires, the people of WV are possibly ingesting other, even more harmful chemicals that they can’t smell and don’t know about. Someone needs to test the residue in that ruptured tank to determine if it really only contained crude 4-MCHM and not just take Freedom’s word for it.

  3. So… there is no connection, yet you find a way to tie the Kochs to the spill. You people ought to be ashamed.

    1. Yes, there is a connection between Koch & Freedom-sucks Industries! It’s a mall company, called Georgia-Pacific, which is OWNED by the Koch bros! Look it up! nice try troll!

  4. The chemicals that were “spilled” were “supplied” by Georgia-Pacific. A company OWNED by the Koch bros! Coca-Cola ALSO makes a “liquid” called pop, or soda, that “might” have been on site @ Freedom Industries, but wasn’t part of the “spill”! NOR do we know “how many” gallons were “spilled”, because these “spills” are always lied about, when reporting to the citizens of The United States Of America! Much like when a bank is robbed, they NEVER tell you the correct amount that is taken! Some trolls, like to lie (which makes them republican’ts) about the facts! The Koch family of industrialists and businessmen is most notable for its control of Koch Industries, the second largest privately owned company in the United States. The family business was started by Fred C. Koch, who developed a new cracking method for the refinement of heavy oil into gasoline.
    Fred C. Koch (1900–1967) and his wife, Mary Robinson Koch (1907-1990) had four boys. Fred’s four sons litigated against each other over their interests in the business during the 1980s and 1990s. “Be kind and generous to one another,” wrote Fred C. Koch to his young sons half a century ago. Never did such good advice fall on such deaf ears. “Old Fred’s” legacy of squabbling sons is every super successful parent’s worst nightmare. He revolutionized an industry, built a large company, made a fortune, tried to cram values into his four sons, then crossed his fingers and hoped they could handle their inheritance when he died. He warned the boys that their wealth could be “a blessing or a curse.” He was right–about the curse. The Koch’s are involved! Just like Christie is involved with shutting down the lanes to the bridge! The main point, is the Koch’s are indirectly involved in this spill! The asshats that “own” Freedom-sucks industries, will not pay one penny, for polluting America. And that is WRONG! And being republican’ts, they will get away with it!

    1. You know, if you would even read the articles, you probably wouldn’t be making these silly statements. The chemical spilled was not produced by Georgia Pacific and even it it was, how can that be their fault? Because they are owned by a conservative company, owned by the hated Kochs? That isn’t the law, bucko.

    2. What makes GPC part of the spill? Just because another one of their products is used by Freedom Industries does not make them involved in the spill. Even *if* Talon was part of the spill, it doesn’t make GPC liable and it especially doesn’t make anyone in the Koch family responsible. You can’t make a company liable if they weren’t in control of the spill even if it was their product. That doesn’t make them liable from a legal perspective but apparently it does from an insane person’s perspective (i.e. you). I’m not sure where you learned the logic that makes that make sense in your head, but it’s incorrect.

  5. The responsibility should be the one “HOLDING” the CHEMICALS! They should be held responsible according to the E.P.A. and no matter what, they should also CLEAN the WATERS ( all where that the water will go to ) and CLEAN the AIR. Where ever the spill the holder of the Chemical is fully responsible and should be enforced with out politics.

Comments are closed.