MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
According to the Charleston Gazette (West Virginia), "Freedom Industries, the company responsible for contaminating the water of 300,000 Kanawha Valley residents, was founded by a two-time convicted felon [and] benefited from the 2009 federal stimulus."
The Gazette identifies the co-founder as Carl Lemley Kennedy II. The Gazette also states that Kennedy, "In 1987 ... pleaded guilty to selling between 10 and 12 ounces of cocaine in connection with a scandal that toppled then-Charleston Mayor Mike Roark." He eventually got his sentence reduced for his company related felonies by becoming a government informant to entrap cocaine dealers.
Although there are some signs that the water turned toxic by the massive chemical spill in the southern part of the state is becoming less polluted, nearly a third of a million West Virginia residents are still warned not to drink tap water for several days.
The spill occurred when a Freedom Industries storage tank containing a noxius chemical used to clean coal spilled into the Elk River, according to Think Progress:
The chemical, 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol (MCHM), is used to wash coal of impurities and spilled from a tank at Freedom Industries into the river. While the amount of MCHM that spilled wasnâ€™t immediately known, West Virginia American Water has been conducting water quality testing every hour. According to Laura Jordan, a spokesperson with the water company, they believe the chemical is leaking at ground level and â€śthere is a possibility this leak has been going on for sometime before it was discovered Thursday,â€ť WSAZ reported.
Local officials described MCHM as smelling like licorice and looking like â€ścooking oil floating on top of the water.â€ť The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources said symptoms of MCHM exposure include â€śsevere burning in throat, severe eye irritation, non-stop vomiting, trouble breathing or severe skin irritation such as skin blistering....â€ť The New York Times reported Saturday that at least 122 people have gone to local hospitals complaining of nausea, vomiting, and skin and eye irritation.
Serving as a symbolic poster child for corporations that both pollute and exploit employees, it is noteworthy to document what exactly Carl Lemley Kennedy II was found guilty of, according to the Gazette:
Kennedy filed for bankruptcy in 2005 after he was charged with tax evasion and willful failure to pay employees' withholdings to the government. He pleaded guilty to both charges in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of West Virginia.
He admitted that between 2000 and 2003, while he was the accountant for Freedom Industries, Poca Blending and New River Chemical Co., he withheld more than $1 million from employee paychecks that he never passed on to the federal government, according to court filings. He also owed more than $200,000 in state taxes.
"Carl L. Kennedy II took steps to conceal a large portion of his income from the Internal Revenue Service by, among other things, using his position as an accountant to ensure a W2 form was not filed in his name," the court document reads, "using corporate funds for his personal benefit and writing corporate checks to cash for his personal enrichment."
No, not all corporation execs are as a corrupt as Kennedy, but the chemical industry appears to have many companies within it who act recklessly in regards to preventing hazards that might endanger local populations. This is particularly true in poorer areas, where constituents have little political impact over zoning and the regulation of pollutants.
Indeed, West Virginia state officials,
are now estimating that as much as 7,500 gallons of a chemical used to process coal â€” Crude MCHM â€” may have spilled into the Elk River. That number is a substantial increase from early estimates of 2,000 to 5,000 gallons.
The chemical leak, first reported Thursday, was at a facility owned by Freedom Industries along the Elk River, just 1.5 miles upstream from a major intake used by the largest water utility in the state, West Virginia American Water. (Italics inserted by BuzzFlash.)
Although, again, it would be wrong to paint every chemical company executive with the broad brush of Kennedy's criminal convictions, it does sometimes appear that the United States has been developing into a perverse corporate culture akin to the incestuous corruption of the movie "Chinatown" from many years back.
Kennedy, after all, is the ultimate literal "taker": taking from his employees, taking from the government, and founding a company that just caused a colossal toxic spill.
It may be excessive to generalize, but there does appear a seedy, profligate symmetry at work here that surely extends to many other corporate "takers" in the environmental and toxic pollutant industries.
Further Note: The Koch Brothers Connection
According to the Gazette:
In 2008, Freedom Industries secured a contract to distribute a line of products called Talon that are used as a binder in coal processing, according to a news release issued at the time. Freedom distributed Talon to eight states, including West Virginia.
"We are excited to offer our customers inventive products like Talon that push past the status quo in coal recovery to bring profit and productivity benefits to mining preparation plants," Joshua Herzing, a Freedom executive, said in the press release.
Talon is made by Georgia-Pacific Chemicals LLC. Georgia-Pacific is owned by the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch.
That information just adds to the whole toxic tale revealing the dark side of US corporate "takers."
(Photo: Pam Stouten)