This past weekend the New York Times covered the story of the Hall-Massey family near Charleston, West Virginia and the toxic chemicals pouring out of the water taps in the family’s bathroom and kitchen. The Times reveals a common third-world condition – the lack of safe water for drinking and bathing – facing residents of one of the wealthiest nations in the world. The reporter outlines evidence of a massive failure by state and federal regulators to protect the community of Prenter, lax enforcement of water pollution laws, and yet another consequence of U.S. dependence on fossil fuels for energy.
Because what’s polluting this community’s water supply? Coal.
Coal Mining Pollution Threatens Drinking Water
Jennifer Hall-Massey and 264 of her neighbors are suing nearby coal mining companies for pumping toxic chemicals into the ground and contaminating their drinking water. “Everything that’s in your sludge ponds is in my water, so how can it not be related?” Hall-Massey asks in a video on the Times web site.
Leaking sludge ponds is only one of many ways coal mining can pollute our water. Mountaintop removal mining, blowing the tops off mountains to reveal coal seams and dumping the debris – including numerous toxic heavy metals – into stream beds, is completely legal and common. According to the Sierra Club, more than 1,200 miles of mountain streams have been buried by such waste in Appalachia.
And the effect of underground mining isn’t pretty either. Acid drainage from abandon mines pollute streams and groundwater with toxic metals and minerals. Acid drainage has contaminated some 3,000 miles of streams in Pennsylvania alone.
Coal Burning Air Pollution and Waste Becomes Water Pollution When It Rains
Once the coal is burned, pollutants released into the air rain back down up on rivers and streams, and the coal ash that remains poses another hazard. There are more than 600 coal ash sites holding power plant waste in 35 states. While the industry insists the ponds are safe, there have been 34 spills from ponds in the last decade, including one last year that buried the the Emory River Valley near Harrington, Tennessee under 1.1 million gallons of coal fly ash slurry.
Take Action: Coal Dependence a National Problem with National Solutions
Even communities that are not experiencing direct pollution effects from coal mining are connected to this problem. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, nearly half of the nation’s electricity is generated by burning coal. While the ultimate solution to coal pollution, and global warming, is clean renewable energy, there’s much the government could and should do about coal mining pollution now:
The Times story on the mining pollution in Prenter, WV focused on problems with enforcement of the Clean Water Act, an important issue. Their analysis found 500,000 CWA violations by regulated facilities in the last five years. But the particular violations of our water laws, and many would say human rights, contaminating the water of the Hall-Massey family and their neighbors exist at the intersection between water pollution and energy pollution problems. No sense in addressing one without the other.
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