NEW INFO: Huntington Man Sentenced for 2004 Westmoreland Chemical Spill

By: Associated Press, WSAZ News Staffz Email
By: Associated Press, WSAZ News Staffz Email

UPDATE 11/5/10 @ 1 p.m.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The man responsible for a major chemical spill in Huntington will never again be allowed to conduct business in West Virgina.

James R. Holt, Jr., the former President and operator of Techsol Chemical was sentenced to 60 days of community confinement, 6 months of home detention, and 5 years probation.

United States District Judge Robert Chambers also ordered Holt to pay restitution in the amount of $13,948 to the Huntington Sanitary Board Wastewater Treatment Plant and to make reasonable payments towards a previous $3M consent decree with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.

Holt previously pleaded guilty, admitting that he negligently introduced a hazardous substance known as Coal Tar Light Oil (CTLO) into the Huntington Sanitation District Sewage Treatment Plant, in violation of the Clean Water Act.

During the morning of October 28, 2004, Techsol employees were transferring 22,000 gallons of CTLO from a rail car to a tanker truck when a massive spill occurred. The spill caused the multi-day evacuation of nearby residents and businesses, the closure of schools, the local sewage treatment plant, several roadways and a rail line, and resulted in millions of dollars in clean-up costs.

Holt was familiar with the dangers involving the handling of hazardous chemicals, including the possibility of spills. However, the investigation revealed that he failed to have his employees properly trained to adequately handle the transloading operation of a rail car containing a hazardous chemical such as CTLO. Moreover, Holt failed to have secondary containment for the rail car during the transloading operation.

"There are honest accidents and there are cases of criminal neglect," said David M. Dillon, Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s Office of Criminal Enforcement in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. "The defendant’s failure to properly train his employees and to have adequate safety measures, directly resulted in the spill of toxic chemicals into a tributary of the Ohio River, costing millions of dollars in damages and forcing hundreds of people to evacuate their homes for more than a week. This method of doing business by cutting corners will not be tolerated. Today’s sentencing demonstrates that companies and their senior executives will be held responsible for environmental crimes."

Under the terms of a previous civil Consent Order, Wayne County Circuit Court enjoined Holt and Techsol from ever conducting business in the State of West Virginia, and enjoined Holt from ever working, or otherwise participating in any "environmentally sensitive business" which included any business which required any WVDEP permit for operations. The Order also imposed a $3 million civil judgment against Techsol and Holt for civil penalties and the recovery of clean up costs, response costs and damages associated with the October 28, 2004 spill.

UPDATE 7/20/10
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) -- A Huntington man has pleaded guilty to negligently releasing a hazardous pollutant into the city's sewer system.

59-year-old James R. Holt faces up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine when he is sentenced Oct. 18 in federal court in Huntington.

Holt was president of Techsol Chemical Co. In October 2004, employees of Techsol were trying to transfer coal tar light oil from a tanker car into a truck to be driven to Marathon Oil in Kentucky. About 22,000 gallons of the oil spilled. Nearby homes and schools were evacuated, some for up to a week.

Federal prosecutors say the cleanup cost Marathon more than $8.3 million.

UPDATE 10/29/09
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) - A January trial is scheduled for the former owner of a chemical company who's facing charges stemming from a spill in Huntington that displaced hundreds of people.

Former TechSol Chemical Co. owner James R. Holt pleaded not guilty Tuesday to federal charges of violating the Clean Water Act and violating federal hazardous waste storage laws.

Holt's trial was set for Jan. 5 before U.S. District Judge Chuck Chambers. Holt remains free on an unsecured $10,000 bond.

UPDATE 10/17/09
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A Federal Grand Jury has indicted the president of a Huntington Chemical company who was involved in a massive chemical spill that forced hundreds of evacuations.

The spill happened on October 28, 2004 at the Techsol Chemical Company on Piedmont Road.

At the time of the spill, WSAZ reported that about 22-thousand gallons of hazardous Coal Tar leaked from a railroad tanker as workers were transferring the chemical to a trailer truck.

Coal Tar includes the chemicals benzene and toluene. Much of the coal tar, which posed a threat of fire, ended up in a nearby creek and city sewer system.

Immediately following the spill, some 500 people were forced from their homes. Most were allowed to return the next day. 36 families were evacuated for eight days.

Following the spill, Techsol Chemical said the spill was an accident that could not have been prevented because workers did not realize that the rail car came in with what appeared to be a faulty valve.

In the indictment released Friday, James Holt is charged with violating the Clean Water Act and storage of a hazardous waste without a permit.

The indictment alleges that Holt failed to properly train his employees to adequately handle the transfer of hazardous chemical from a rail car. It also alleges that Holt knew the dangers of handling hazardous chemical, including the possibility of spills.

If convicted, Holt could face up to six years in prison and $350,000 fine.

In October 2006, we reported that the company agreed to pay the state $3 million to settle a lawsuit involving the spill.

As part of the settlement, the company agreed to never again operate any environmentally sensitive business in West Virginia.

UPDATE 4/2/07
WESTMORELAND, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- More than two years ago, the Techsol chemical spill in Westmoreland drove five hundred people from their homes. Marathon Ashland has already settled with many of the neighbors in the affected area...but now, they're worried about more drilling for soil samples near their neighborhood.

It all started in October 2004, when Techsol tried to transfer about 22 thousand gallons of coal tar light oil from a rail car to a tanker truck for Marathon Ashland. Since then, lawsuits have been settled and special wells were installed. Many residents we talked to say that respiratory problems are widespread in the neighborhood.

But now, the Arcadis Company, contacted by Marathon Ashland, is drilling in the area again. We tried to get in touch with Marathon Petroleum to find out exactly what the drilling is all about, but as of this writing nobody has called us back.

UPDATE 10/14/06
WESTMORELAND, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- It was a chemical spill that drove 500 Westmoreland residents out of their homes back in 2004.

Now Techsol, the chemical company respinsible for the spill, has agreed to pay the state $3 million to settle a lawsuit. The company also agreed to never operate any environmentally sensitive business in West Virginia again.

The spill happened back in October of 2004 when workers at Techsol tried fo transfer 22,000 gallons of coal tar light oil from a rail car to a tanker truck for Marathon Ashland.

Schools and homes were evacuated, some for up to a week.

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