Responding to the Freedom Industries chemical spill
The theme of this year’s Republican leadership at the WV Legislature seems to be that WV business is “overregulated.” Jonathan Mattise of the AP filed this story last Friday. There isn’t much evidence in this piece that current WV regulation is even minimally effective.
A few towns over from the tank farm where Freedom Industries leaked a coal-cleaning chemical into the drinking water of 300,000 West Virginians last year, a new company run by former Freedom employees is being cited for similar environmental violations.
State regulators have cited the new firm, Lexycon, eight times since September for pouring chemicals without a permit, lacking proper “last-resort” walls to contain spills and hosting tanker-trailers full of unknown chemicals, among other infractions, according to records reviewed by The Associated Press.
Inspectors even found the same little-known chemical that had leaked from Freedom’s site into the water supply for Charleston, West Virginia, despite the Lexycon owner’s promise to a federal judge that his company wouldn’t touch it.
Some of these infractions still haven’t been addressed, despite three site-wide inspections and dozens of smaller visits by regulators from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection since May, state reports show.
Yup, you read that right. People who were involved with Freedom Industries, the now bankrupt company that skipped out leaving Charleston’s businesses and residents stuck with millions of dollars in damages, have been allowed to set up a new company right down the Kanawha River, ON THE RIVER BANK. Despite the fact that these people have repeatedly lied to WV regulators, WV DEP can’t shut this operation down.
The real kicker is that this new site, near Nitro, has a failed secondary containment structure, just like the Freedom site on the Elk River.
However, state environmental inspectors soon recognized shoddy safeguards at the Nitro site, too: Containment walls riddled with holes that could let materials seep into a stormwater ditch that drains into the Kanawha.
These people are also currently under indictment in Federal court for violations of the Clean Water Act in the Freedom disaster.
Freedom ultimately filed for bankruptcy. Just three months after the leak, Lexycon was founded by David Carson, a chemical firm owner who had done business with Freedom and bought the Nitro location.
Before he approved the transaction in May, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Ronald Pearson called it “a real positive in the case” that Lexycon was hiring former Freedom employees.
“They’re the ones that know the business,” Mark Welch, chief restructuring officer during Freedom’s bankruptcy case, said in court. “If I was buying, I would want to make sure I had the best assets available.”
At least three prominent players at Freedom, including two who now face federal charges over the leak, went on to have strong ties to Lexycon:
| Former Freedom president and co-owner Dennis Farrell, who faces up to three years in prison on pollution charges over the leak, consults now for Lexycon, his lawyer, Michael Carey, said during an arraignment last week. Farrell works in a sales role but isn’t officially an employee and has no ownership stake in Lexycon, Carson testified.
| Robert Reynolds, the Freedom environmental consultant who also is charged in the leak, greeted state inspectors onsite as a Lexycon representative in August, their report shows. Welch said Reynolds has since left the company. He was charged in a document called an “information,” which generally means someone is cooperating with an investigation.
| Lexycon President Kevin Skiles had owned 5 percent of Freedom’s shares and was a Freedom research and technology official.
According to bankruptcy court filings, Carson is a friend of Gary Southern, the former Freedom president who angered many by swigging from a bottle of water and bemoaning his long day at a televised news conference the day after the leak.
Too much regulation? Not when it comes to Lexycon.