West Virginia Company Hires Firm to Maintain Chemical Spill Data

By JONATHAN MATTISE | March 10, 2014

The West Virginia company at the center of a January chemical spill is hiring experts to preserve emails and phone records for ongoing investigations.

In bankruptcy court Tuesday, Freedom Industries received approval to hire Vestige Ltd. for about $42,500 to collect electronic evidence. The email, cellphone and other data are needed for investigations by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s office and additional entities.

Freedom Industries attorney Stephen Thompson says the data firm started collecting information around Feb. 1, after the U.S. Attorney’s Office issued grand jury subpoenas. Judge Ronald Pearson approved Freedom’s request to hire Vestige.

Thompson says some records are internal, while accountants or former company executives have others. No Freedom Industries officials attended Tuesday’s brief court hearing.

Freedom Industries is about 10 days away from its deadline to start scrapping the Charleston facility where the spill occurred. Under state Department of Environmental Protection orders, the company has to start taking down its tanks by March 15.

The company is also ending operations at another storage site nearby in Nitro. In January, Freedom Industries moved some of its Charleston chemicals to that facility to comply with a state Department of Environmental Protection order.

But the agency found that the Nitro facility also had shoddy last-resort chemical containment features. The company has shipped some of the Nitro chemicals to a coal facility in Pennsylvania.

Freedom Industries runs another offshoot named EnergyTech LLC out of Colorado, court documents show.

The company is winding down its operations and trying to find new jobs for its 51 employees. Freedom Industries officials have said the company has already sold off almost all of its chemicals, which it anticipated would yield about $990,000 from mid-February through mid-March, court documents show. The company is using the money to pay for its climbing environmental cleanup costs.

The company’s environmental remediation bill topped $911,000 in January, and Freedom expected to pay another $1.7 million from mid-February to mid-March, according to court records.

The cost of maintaining its bankruptcy status also keeps growing. The company anticipated another $400,000 in bankruptcy legal costs from the middle of last month through March 16, adding to a $150,000 cost for lawyers it has already absorbed, court documents state.

Freedom’s Jan. 9 spill contaminated drinking water for 300,000 people for days.

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