Drinking water or toxic soup?

Written by Amanda Starbuck

Topics: Coal

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Kenny Stroud and his son ponder their contaminated water in their Rawl, Mingo County, W.Va. home. Photo credit: Sludge Safety project

Kenny Stroud and his son ponder their contaminated water in their Rawl, Mingo County, W.Va. home. Photo credit: Sludge Safety project

Surely it’s a no brainer that access to clean water is a fundamental human right and a fact of life in 21st century USA?

Shockingly, it’s not.

Many communities who live in the coalfields of Appalachia cannot trust their water supplies because of contamination from coal sludge.

“Coal sludge” or “slurry” is a poisonous, toxic soup, a waste-product from coal processing. Slurry contains chemicals used in the prep plant, plus heavy metals naturally present in coal, such as arsenic, mercury, chromium, cadmium, boron, selenium, and nickel. It winds up in vast, unlined lakes or impoundments or it is injected underground for storage in abandoned underground-mines, by the billions of gallons.

Residents of the Rawl area in Mingo County, WV are suffering the consequences of living alongside slurry. Their water used to be sweet and pure, but now can run rusty orange or black at times. The water stinks, has an oily feel, corrodes plumbing fixtures quickly and stains clothes. Many area residents have illnesses they blame on the contaminated water.

And occasionally sludge dams fail, resulting in a tragic environmental catastrophe. In October 2000, residents of Martin County, Kentucky suffered 306 million gallons of slurry entering their water supply. This disaster was over 30 times the size of the Exxon Valdez spill

On Saturday I joined the Sludge Safety Project at West Virginia’s state legislature as they prepared to lobby for a ban on slurry. They are asking their elected state representatives to support a ban on underground injections and the phase out of coal sludge impoundments.

In my mind, the role of a representative is to enhance the welfare and well-being of their constituents. So, it’s surely another no-brainer that the citizen lobbyists with the Sludge Safety Project will be well received and supported.

Watch this space…

Amanda

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