Ex-chemical company president pleads guilty in West Virginia spill

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 19, 2015 6:24 PM

(Reuters) - The former president of a chemical company charged in the contamination of West Virginia's biggest source of drinking water pleaded guilty on Wednesday to three federal pollution counts.

Gary Southern, 53, was the last Freedom Industries Inc executive charged in the Elk River spill in January 2014. The leak of a coal-washing chemical near Charleston contaminated the drinking water of about 300,000 people.

Southern had faced 15 charges. He pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Charleston to misdemeanor charges of violating the federal Clean Water Act, negligently discharging refuse matter and failing to have a pollution prevention plan, the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a statement.

Southern faces up to three years in prison and a $300,000 fine.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board cited Freedom Industries for failing to inspect its tanks.

Former company executives Dennis Farrell, William Tis and Charles Herzing have also pleaded guilty in the case. Sentencing is scheduled for later this year.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Daley in Pittsburgh; Editing by Ian Simpson and Peter Cooney)