Last month, the U.S. Attorney General's office indicted four owners and operators of a chemical company that was accused last January of polluting the drinking water of 30,000 residents in Charleston, West Virginia.
Freedom Industries CEO Gary Southern was charged with 13 counts of violation of the Clean Water Act and intent to defraud and give false oath, while three other executives, Dennis P. Farrell, William E. Tis and Charles E. Herzing, each were charged with three counts of violating U.S. environmental laws. All four were indicted for failing to ensure that the facility was operated in a "reasonable and environmentally sound manner when they knew or should have known of the facts and circumstances constituting Freedom's negligence."
According to a 37-page indictment, the company's negligence included:
The four defendants have been charged with
If convicted, Farrell, Tis and Herzing face a maximum sentence of three years in federal prison, while Southern could face as many as 68 years in prison. All four were arrested and have pleaded not guilty to the charges. Farrell, Tis and Herzing each posted bail of $10,000, while Southern posted bail of $100,000. Trial is to begin March 10.
And for many it is. Only seven months earlier, a resident survey suggested that as many as two-thirds were still afraid to drink the water, troubled by water tests that suggested the chemical MCHM was capable of breaking down into carcinogenic substances like formaldehyde in water pipes. While other experts discounted the test results, none had been able to explain why formaldehyde was appearing in tap water days after the spill.
Today, however, residents' faith in the water system seems to be improving. Restaurants in the Charleston area, which less than a year ago were operating off of bottled water and struggling financially, are now reporting higher sales. Like many residents in the area, they admit that the crisis taught them a valuable, if not unsettling, lesson: Tap water or no tap water, they now keep a healthy supply of bottled water in storage -- just in case.
Image credits: WV National Guard
Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.