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Freedom Industries President Apologizes For Chemical Leak

Reported: Jan. 10, 2014 6:03 PM EST
Updated: Jan. 10, 2014 11:49 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Heath Harrison, Kallie Cart, Rick Lord, Elizabeth Noreika) -- Freedom Industries President Gary Southern gave an abbreviated news conference in Charleston on Friday in which he apologized for the chemical spill that has disrupted water service in nine West Virginia counties.

“We are very, very sorry for disruption of everyone’s daily life,” Southern said.

A chemical leak was reported Thursday morning at the company’s facility in Charleston. The chemical, 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol, leaked into the Elk River, upstream from the West Virginia American Water treatment facility. The chemical is used in the coal preparation process.

In his first appearance before the media since Thursday’s “do not drink” water advisory was issued for West Virginia American Water customers, Southern said his company seeks to be transparent in its handling of the situation.

Southern said his company could not say exactly how much of the chemical had leaked into the Elk River.

Southern said the 35,000-gallon storage tank for the chemical has been drained and the chemical has been sucked up from the ground. He said the next step is to remove dirt from the site for disposal.

Southern did not spend much time responding to reporters’ questions. When pressed for specifics, he repeatedly attempted to end the press conference.

Water quality experts were closely monitoring the water Friday. Tests were conducted hour by hour, with each one taking about 46 minutes, as they tried to find out just how much of the chemical got into the water supply.

The West Virginia Department of Environmental protection has ordered Freedom Industries to cease operations.

Their air quality division has also issued a notice of violation to the plant for the release of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol into the air.

Emergency officials held several press conferences Friday where they said they believe between 2,000 and 5,000 gallons of the chemical leaked.

They said a lot of the chemical was caught in the containment wall, and they were trying to figure out just how much actually got into the Elk River.

The U.S. Attorney's office has opened a criminal investigation of the spill. State and federal authorities will be looking at whether or not plant officials knew the chemical was leaking and whether they failed to report it immediately. Those actions would be violations of the Clean Water Act, along with a federal reporting law.

A timeline for when water is safe to use again has not yet been set.

The number of people without usable water right remained in the 300,000 range Friday night. Many were still reporting a licorice-like smell.

West Virginia American Water Company's "no use" order remained in effect for the counties, with water available only for waste removal and firefighting.

Federal, state and local agencies were working diligently trying to get essential water where it needs to go.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said those running low on bottled water should not panic and that help and supplies were on the way. Those in the affected area were urged to contact local emergency management office for water distribution sites.

Tomblin said the top priority was to get water to the people who need it. However, the governor said a vigorous investigation will find out how the leak happened and how it can be avoided in the future.

West Virginia American Water President Jeff McIntyre stressed the importance of not using the contaminated water.

“It's an abundance of caution that we're taking this step,” he said. “And people need to heed it. We don't do this lightly. Tell our customers not to use the water.”



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