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"You Can Pollute Drinking Water For 300,000 People And Get Just One Month In Prison"
In January 2014, 10,000 gallons of chemicals leaked from a storage facility into the Elk River, a mile and a half upstream from the drinking water intake for 300,000 West Virginians. People lined up for bottled water amid fear and confusion over the long-term health risks.
The company that owned the facility, Freedom Industries, was blamed for rusty, poorly maintained tanks that allowed the coal-cleaning chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM) to seep into the waterway. Freedom Industries filed for bankruptcy within days of the spill.
Six company employees were eventually indicted for violating the federal Clean Water Act, after prosecutors argued that they had "put an entire population needlessly at risk" and that the spill was "completely preventable." Last year, the company's top executive, Gary Southern, pleaded guilty to environmental violations.
On Feb. 17, more than two years after the chemical spill, a federal judge handed down Southern's sentence: a month in prison and a mere $20,000 fine.
Many West Virginians are calling that punishment inadequate, considering the damage his company did to the region's drinking water.
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