Freedom Industries knew about serious problems with the spill-containment dikes at the companys Elk River facility years before the leak in January 2014 that contaminated the drinking water supply for hundreds of thousands of Kanawha Valley residents, federal authorities allege in newly unsealed documents.
Freedom was long aware of inadequacies with the containment dike around Tank 396 the one that leaked MCHM and other chemicals into the Elk on Jan. 9, 2014 and also knew the tank was old, had not been properly inspected and needed to be replaced, according to an FBI affidavit made public late Wednesday in U.S. District Court.
The containment area at the Etowah Facility within which Freedom stored MCHM was incapable of holding a significant chemical spill, wrote FBI Special Agent Jim Lafferty. There were numerous cracks in the dike wall. Moreover, at various spots along the dike wall, mortar had ended between and underneath the blocks, thus creating space through which liquid could leak.
Laffertys 26-page affidavit was filed in support of an application for a search warrant federal officials sought in September to obtain computer records, a laptop computer and paper financial records from Freedom as part of their ongoing investigation of the chemical leak. U.S. Magistrate Judge Cheryl A. Eifert, in Huntington, approved the warrant on Sept. 12, 2014, and a copy of the warrant and Laffertys affidavit was unsealed Wednesday.
Late Thursday, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey released a report that outlined similar findings regarding a long history of Freedom officials knowing about problems at the Elk River site, but not taking action to fix them.
The 49-page report said that among the most disturbing findings of the state investigation was that Freedom employees and outside consultants warned of a potential catstrophic incident due to poor tank conditions and design problems for years, and in some cases offered solutions that were never acted upon.
The new details from the FBI and from Morriseys office come as three of the six former Freedom Industries officials who have been charged with criminal violations concerning the leak and its aftermath were making court appearances.
In Charleston, former Freedom officials Dennis Farrell, William Tis and Gary Southern pleaded not guilty at arraignments before U.S. Magistrate Judge Dwane L. Tinsley.
The trio appeared in separate hearings held consecutively, and Tis gave Farrell a thumbs up sign as Tis walked from the front of the courtroom after entering his plea. Farrell, 58, of Charleston, and Tis, 60, of Verona, Pennsylvania, were released on $10,000 unsecured bail, and trial for all three men was tentatively scheduled for March 10.
Tinsley rejected a request by Assistant U.S. Attorney Phil Wright to force Southern to post a $500,000 secured bond to assure his appearance at trial. After initially being arrested at his home in Marco Island, Florida, based on a criminal complaint, Southern was released on $100,000 unsecured bail by a magistrate in nearby Fort Myers.
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Feds: Freedom knew about problems for years