Freedom Industries Inc., blamed for a chemical spill that left 300,000 West Virginians without safe drinking water, filed for bankruptcy Friday. This temporarily shields it from dozens of lawsuits, many of these by businesses that were forced to shut down for days following the spill.
The company lists its assets and liabilities as being between $1 million and $10 million. It says the company has at least 200 creditors and owes its top 20 creditors $3.66 million.
The bankruptcy proceedings temporarily halt the lawsuits against Freedom Industries. Those individuals and businesses are weighing an option to petition the court to proceed in hopes of collecting on Freedom’s insurance policy.
There is no current estimate on the amount of money that local businesses lost during the height of the water crisis. The bankruptcy filing doesn’t stall lawsuits against other parties targeted in the spill, nor does it free Freedom Industries from its responsibility to rectify environmental damage caused by the spill.
In the filing, Freedom Industries gave a possible explanation for what caused the chemical leak. The company said a nearby water line burst during a run of frigid temperatures, the ground beneath a storage tank froze, and some kind of object punctured a hole in the tank’s side, causing it to leak. The water was tainted after the chemical later leaked through a containment area at a facility owned by Freedom Industries. The water ran into the Elk River, contaminating the state’s largest water system.
After the spill, residents in a nine-county area around the state capital of Charleston were told not to use the water for anything other than flushing toilets. Some businesses and schools were forced to close for several days. The water restrictions have since been lifted for all residents, but officials suggest that pregnant women not drink the water.