US & Canada

West Virginia chemical spill: Firm files for bankruptcy

A worker moves a drilling machine around storage tanks at Freedom Industries storage facility in Charleston, West Virginia 13 January 2014 Image copyright AP
Image caption Freedom Industries reported assets and liabilities between $1m (£609,000) and $10m in the bankruptcy filing

A West Virginia firm responsible for a chemical spill that led to drinking water bans for 300,0000 residents has declared bankruptcy.

The move temporarily protects Freedom Industries in Charleston from lawsuits, many filed by business that were forced to closed for several days.

Last week, a chemical used to process coal leaked into the Elk river.

Freedom said in its bankruptcy filing it believed the leak was caused by cold weather earlier in January.

The firm said a water line burst in freezing temperatures, the ground beneath a storage tank holding the chemical then froze, and a object punctured the tank's side, causing it to leak.

Water authorities have lifted the ban from most of the areas, after schools and businesses were closed a session of the state legislature cancelled.

Residents were warned to not drink or bathe with the water. Shops sold out of bottled water and West Virginia declared a state of emergency.

The bankruptcy does not end Freedom Industries' responsibility to make good environmental damages caused by the spill, said Tom Aluise, a spokesman for the state department of environmental protection.

The container that leaked had not been inspected by state officials since 2001, when it was owned by a different firm operating under more stringent rules. State officials said Freedom Industries bought the terminal last month but the firm had been based at the site by the Elk river for many years.

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