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Six Employees Indicted in West Virginia Water Contamination Debacle
According to charging documents disclosed on Wednesday, several individuals with Freedom Industries chemical company are being held responsible for one of the largest incidents of water contamination in U.S. history.
In January, 7,000 gallons of a toxic chemical called MCHM (4-Methylcyclohexanemethanol) leaked into the Elk River less than two miles upstream from Charleston, West Virginia. The chemical, used as a coal cleaning agent, was stored adjacent to the river in steel tanks that began to corrode and leak. The location was also upstream from the principal intake of West Virginia American Water, a public water utility whose service area spans multiple counties. The leakage caused unsafe levels of MCHM to enter the water utility's treatment and distribution network, which then prompted a do-not-use order, leaving 300,000 residents unable to drink tap water or bathe for eight days.
Environmental contamination is familiar in West Virginia, where it is believed that one in five streams are contaminated as a result of surface coal mining. However the Freedom Industries spill was particularly disturbing, leaving many residents to concerned over how pervasive the issue was, and when safe drinking water would be restored.
Six employees of Freedom industries could face prison sentences, including senior executives and lower-level staff, for failing to maintain equipment that led to negligent discharge of pollutants in violation of the Clean Water Act.
The Clean Water Act of 1972 is a major environmental protection law that established comprehensive federal standards for protecting the nation's water quality. One of the basic elements of the law is to ensure upstream activities do not cause negative impacts downstream.