(CNN) — Almost one year after water for more than 300,000 West Virginia residents was contaminated because of a chemical spill, six former officials for the company responsible for the leak are facing federal charges…
The Freedom Industries president at the time was Gary Southern, 53, who was indicted on charges of negligent discharge of a pollutant in violation of the Clean Water Act, among other alleged violations. He also faces separate federal charges of wire and bankruptcy fraud. If convicted on all charges, he could face nearly 70 years in prison.
Three former owners of Freedom Industries were also indicted. Dennis P. Farrell, 58, William E. Tis, 60, and Charles E. Herzing, 63, were indicted on charges of negligent discharge of a pollutant and negligent discharge of refuse matter. They face up to three years in prison.
The indictment for Southern, Farrell, Tis and Herzing alleged that their company failed to make sure the tank holding MCHM was inspected for cracks and to keep it maintained. The indictment alleges that these four men approved funding “only for those projects that would result in increased business revenue for Freedom, or that were immediately necessary for required equipment maintenance.”
Two other men who worked for Freedom Industries at the time — Michael Burdette and Robert Reynolds — also face charges that they violated the Clean Water Act.
An indictment does not imply guilt or even mean that anyone will ultimately be held responsible for the panic that was put on the residents of West Virginia who couldn’t use the water coming from their faucet for weeks. There will likely be legal maneuvering and wrangling well into 2016 in this case, so I don’t expect anything to happen quickly.
It’s one thing for an accident to happen and a spill like this take place. I think that it should be a criminal act if someone purposefully neglects safety for dangerous chemicals and such that have the potential of causing great harm or massive damage within a community. I don’t think there should be overburdening rules that keep businesses from profiting, but that profit should not come at the expense of the health and/or lives of people living nearby.
The courts will have to decide whether their actions were criminal or not. For those who were harmed or displaced by this, hopefully they’ll feel like someone’s fighting on their behalf because those responsible for causing this may end up having to bear the responsibility of their actions.