20.08.2015. The final defendants charged in connection with the January 2014 Elk River chemical spill have pleaded guilty to charges in a US federal court.
Gary Southern, the former president of Freedom Industries, Inc, pleaded guilty to violating the federal Clean Water Act, negligently discharging refuse matter in violation of the federal Refuse Act, and failing to have a pollution prevention plan.
Dennis P. Farrell, a former Freedom president and owner, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to violating the federal Refuse Act and failing to have a pollution prevention plan. Freedom and four other Freedom officials previously pleaded guilty to environmental crimes in March 2015.
“This should serve as a wakeup call to those who operate chemical storage facilities near our precious water resources. If you place our water at risk, you face prison time,” said US Attorney Booth Goodwin. “As I said when these individuals were charged, this spill, which was completely preventable, happened to take place in this district, but it could have happened anywhere. If we don’t want it to happen again, we need to make it crystal clear that those who engage in this kind of criminal behaviour will be held accountable.”
Freedom Industries, Inc, and six former Freedom officials — including Farrell and Southern — were charged in December 2014 with various federal crimes related to the chemical spill in Charleston, West Virginia, which ultimately affected the water supply of more than 300,000 people.
Southern faces a mandatory minimum of 30 days and up to three years in federal prison when he is sentenced on 16 December 2015. Farrell faces a mandatory minimum of 30 days and up to two years prison when he is sentenced on 14 December 2015.
According to Federal court indictment Southern and Farrell’s criminal conduct included: failure to properly maintain the containment area surrounding the tanks at the Elk River facility and to make necessary repairs to ensure the containment area would contain a chemical spill; failure to properly inspect a tank containing the chemical MCHM; failure to develop and implement a spill prevention, control and counter measures plan; and failure to develop and implement a storm water pollution prevention plan and groundwater protection plan, both requirements of a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit.