Don’t Drink The Water: Coal Industry Creates Third-World Conditions in United States Today

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:

Starting with

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.

View of the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant fly ash spill by Brian Stansberry licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0.


William C
William Cabout a month ago


William C
William Cabout a month ago


W. C
W. Cabout a month ago

Thank you for caring.

Anna M.
Anna M5 years ago

The real price of anything is
the amount of life exchanged for it.
So the real question is:
How many lives per gallon?

Cree Prophecy
When all the trees have been cut down,
When all the animals have been hunted,
When all the waters are polluted,
When all the air is unsafe to breathe,
Only then will you discover
you cannot eat money.

lisa o.
lisa O5 years ago

What a silly poll to put after a story like this. If someone is going to read this story, they are probably against the coal industry and only will lean more towards stricter laws from reading the article. I am glad I read the article, though.

Geoff W.
Geoff W.7 years ago

Reading the above comments, with all the finger-pointing and cries of "Greed!" makes me suppose that all readers of this thread must wear homespun clothes, grow all their own food and power their homes with windmill generated electricity, re-cycle everything, compost all food waste, use only their own septic field, own their property, have no debt, nor own any corporate stocks, in short have a negligible footprint on the world.

The sad truth is that coal is mined not merely for the greed (if it is greed) of the corporations but to sustain the developed nation in which we live, with its highways, lawful communities, national telecommunications system, universities, libraries, recreational facilities, medical institutions, and so on, all of which were built with the EXCESS wealth made possible by such industries as coal mining, mass production factories, and technology in general , none of which would exist if no fish died, no forests were harvested, no owls nor deer were displaced.

A developed nation of 300 MILLION people cannot exist as harmlessly as the nomadic plains indians did before the Europeans arrived 500 years ago.

Get real people. Wake up and smell the coffee.
btw, that too was imported from environment-exploiting nations for our enjoyment.

David K.
David K7 years ago

Coal as well as other fossil so-called fuels, ought not to be merely burned. We are robbing our descendants of their birthright for short term monetary gain. They should be reserved as solely a feedstock for chemical engineers to convert to medecines and plastics etc. To burn such valuable material is profligate greed. All our electricity could be generated by the various so-called renewable methods, they require no inventions merely understanding of the true value of increasingly scarse materials.

Ernest R.
Ernest R7 years ago

On CNN there was a breakdown on public concern in election issues. There were a number of these with the proportion of responders for each, the list finishing with 3%. Environmental issues did not appear anywhere, not even for 3% of American voters. Good luck, folks.

Christine T.
Ciara T7 years ago

So much for the "technological progress" of the U.S. Articles like this really make you wonder at the stupidity of it all. Pathetic that greed rules so much that the decision-makers and those with the money don't even care about their own descendants' futures.