(NaturalNews) Early in 2014, Natural News reported a drinking and bathing water crisis that had been affecting 300,000 West Virginia residents in nine counties for over three days (at that time).
The water supply had been contaminated by a foaming chemical used for cleaning freshly mined coal, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, or crude MCHM, which had leaked from an above ground storage tank along the Elk River.
The tanks were a half-mile upriver from the West Virginia American Water Company, the site that supplies the water for that nine-county region.
By the time the water supply plant became aware of excess crude MCHM in the water supply, it was discovered that over 5000 gallons of the toxic chemical had been released into the soil along the Elk River bank and had seeped into the river to make its way into the water plant area a half-mile away.
American Water finally woke up and declared all of its water unfit for consumption or skin contact and only useful for putting out fires and flushing toilets. The local area run on bottled water created some dicey moments, and ER facilities were becoming overwhelmed.
Complaints ranged from outer skin irritation to throat burning, headaches, dizziness, vomiting and diarrhea.
The polluter's shady past
Freedom Industries is the company responsible for leaking what turned out to be 7,500 gallons of crude MCHM by the time investigators had determined the leak's source.
Freedom Industries manufactures, stores and distributes the crude MCHM among its several plants. But the Etowah River Terminal where the leak occurred only stores it. That whole area of the country has a lot of coal mining still going on. It seems that the company's last safety inspection was in 1991, two decades before the leak.
Apparently, there were several halfhearted inspection attempts from various government agencies that were called off for spurious reasons. Some commenters on the local newspaper's website, WVGazette.com, suspected the Koch brothers' money influencing local environmental authorities to further diminish environmental monitoring of coal-related industries.
What shocked some even more were disclosures of the criminal past of one of the company's co-founders, Carl Lemley Kennedy II. He was busted for trafficking 12 ounces of cocaine in 1987. That case also created a scandal involving Mike Roark, the mayor of West Virginia's capital, Charleston.
In 1992, Carl Kennedy and others formed Freedom Industries. Acting as accountant for two of the plants in the Freedom Industries network, Carl managed to pocket over a million dollars in withholding tax money meant for the IRS from Freedom Industries' employees.
He was sentenced to three years in prison, which he was able to weasel out of by acting as an informant for the Feds and making controlled cocaine purchases. Carl is no longer working with the company, although he retains 5 percent ownership.
So now, finally, the inspections begin
In mid-January 2014, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) finally inspected the nearby Freedom Industries plant that puts the chemicals together, Poca Blending, and issued five serious environmental safety violation citations.
Freedom Industries was given 20 days to respond with plans and activities to correct the violations.
And now other tanks containing hazardous materials are being discovered near public water supply areas. The West Virginia DEP is on a roll with inventorying hazardous chemical storage tanks. They've recently added another 600 that could endanger public drinking water, bringing the total to over 1,600.
The latest numbers from the DEP show 595 facilities with an estimated 3,953 above-ground storage tanks. DEP officials estimate that 109 of those facilities, with 1,618 storage tanks, are located "within close proximity" to a public water supply.
The DEP intends to widen the location parameters for potential water supply contamination and locate more tanks for actual routine inspections. That would be appropriate after two decades of no inspections and a near disaster.