Sustained Outrage

Judge presses for deal on chemical spill records

Coal Water Pollution

The former site of Freedom Industries, shown in an Associated Press file photo take just after the January 2014 chemical spill. The tanks have since been removed.

We learned last week of some potential bombshell disclosures in the documents filed in the chemical spill case that’s being pursued against West Virginia American Water Co. and Eastman Chemical:

Eastman Chemical Co. did not properly caution Freedom Industries about the potential for the chemical Crude MCHM to corrode Freedom’s storage tanks prior to Freedom’s January 2014 leak that contaminated the Kanawha Valley region’s drinking water supply, lawyers for area residents allege in new court filings this week.

Lawyers for residents also alleged in their court filings that then-Freedom Industries official Dennis Farrell tried unsuccessfully on the morning of the leak to convince a West Virginia American Water Co. official to turn off the intake pumps on its Elk River treatment plant, located just 1.5 miles downstream from the site of the Freedom facility.

But we also know that key documents that could tell us more about all of this — and about the story of a long-forgotten intake West Virginia American originally had above the Freedom industrial site — remain under seal, pending a final ruling on their status by U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver.

On Friday, Judge Copenhaver pressed the parties in the litigation to come up with a deal about those records. In a two-page order, the judge said:

That counsel for all parties and any public document custodians be, and hereby are, directed to meet and confer on or before July 15, 2015, toward the end of reaching an agreement that would result in spreading on the public record the documents presently lodged with the court under seal as presented for filing on May 18, 2015, and May 28, 2015, and July 6, 2015.

Absent such an agreement, the judge said:

That, in the event a complete unsealing agreement is not earlier reached, defendants be, and hereby are, directed to file no later than July 17, 2015, their joint response to the plaintiffs’ submission, mindful of the restrictions on the sealing of public documents filed with the court and the well-settled rules governing public access; and, in which event, the court will confer with the parties at the time of the regularly scheduled conference in open court with counsel on July 20, 2015, respecting a hearing date for resolution of the remaining sealing issues …

Also:

That any interested party be, and hereby is, permitted no later than July 17, 2015, to file any comments concerning the propriety of sealing.