This West Virginia Chemical Spill Company Too Stupid To Be Real

Our first clue that the story of the West Virginia chemical spill was actually an elaborate work of fiction* was the name of the company behind it, "Freedom Industries." That really tickled our inner Orwell, and the evidence kept mounting: The company's president, Gary Southern, whose name practically shouted "lazy screenwriter," was too tired to keep answering questions from the press, about the poisons his company had put in the people's river. Nobody would really be that dumb and insensitive outside of an Oliver Stone film, right?

Then came the news that there was another, potentially more harmful chemical involved in the spill, but Freedom Industries couldn't tell us what it was -- it was a "trade secret"! No way, really? At this point, our suspension of disbelief had been stretched to the breaking point. Then we read this Bloomberg Businessweek article about the "people" behind Freedom Industries, and their "backgrounds," and it snapped. Verdict: Artifice! Fiction! This story has broken the fourth wall. Julia Roberts will star, Steven Soderbergh will direct, and the film will lose the Best Picture Oscar to "Three Hours of Daniel Day-Lewis Masturbating," directed by Steven Spielberg.

... the co-founder of Freedom Industries, the company at the center of the Jan. 9 chemical spill that cut off tap water for 300,000 West Virginians, was convicted of siphoning payroll tax withholdings to splurge on sports cars, a private plane, and real estate in the Bahamas. And 18 years before that, in 1987, before he started Freedom Industries, Carl Kennedy II was convicted of conspiring to sell cocaine in a scandal that brought down the mayor of Charleston.

FADE IN. CARL KENNEDY II is blowing lines off a black-toothed hooker's ass.

               CARL KENNEDY II

Holy shit! Chemicals, man, chemicals! It's the future! Vroom vroom, I like sportscars and cocaine powder!

Holy shit indeed. There is so, so much more. Meet Freedom's new owner, who took the company into bankruptcy, perhaps to avoid paying money to the people his company screwed:

A different sort of character from Kennedy, Farrell, and Southern, [Cliff] Forrest founded and heads Rosebud Mining, the third-largest coal producer in Pennsylvania and the 21st-largest in the country.

Rosebud mining, even!

For maximum irony, there is also a company called "Chemstream Mining" involved in this theater of the absurd that we're supposed to believe is a real thing that is happening.

This film even appeals to libertarians:

In 2009, Farrell told the Charleston Daily Mail, Freedom faced having to shut down its main Elk River location because silt buildup made it difficult for barges to travel from the terminal to the confluence with the Kanawha River. “At some point, we wouldn’t have been economically fit to run the facility,” Farrell said. “That’s our claim to fame—the barges.” The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers came to the rescue. With $400,000 in federal stimulus money, the Army Corps dredged the Elk River and kept the Freedom plant viable.

Just read the whole article, it's a true American fable of how to get rich by knowing the right people, doing crimes, declaring bankruptcy, and not giving much of a gosh darn what happens to other humans.

*We do not actually believe this is "an elaborate work of fiction," and we are very sad and angry on behalf of all West Virginians. Please do not hate us, and also please stop listening to the people who say you have to choose between your jobs and your health & safety. That's a lie that only serves Freedom Industries and their kind. You deserve better.

Follow Alex on Twitter.

[Bloomberg Businessweek]


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