Coal Tattoo

Is Marsh Fork Elementary School safe? (Part II)


In Part I, I discussed the history of inadequate studies and inspections by state and federal officials that — despite their clear omissions — are used by Massey Energy and its supporters to make statements like this one, issued last week by Gov. Joe Manchin’s communications director:

… The governor would never send any child to a school that isn’t safe, sound or sanitary. We rely on experts to examine building conditions and to make those determinations.

As Part I showed, the Manchin administration’s “experts” didn’t bother to actually test the air that kids are breathing down at Marsh Fork Elementary … but some other folks have done that, as part of a lawsuit filed against Massey Energy by some local residents over alleged pollution problems related to the company’s Goals Coal Co. processing plant.

Scott Simonton, a Marshall University professor and member of the state Environmental Quality Board, submitted this expert report to Kevin Thompson, a lawyer for the residents. The report, dated October 2008, is part of the court record and I’ve posted it online.

Simonton reviewed data from air sampling conducted in an around Marsh Fork Elementary and found that, while limited, the data “does support my belief that dust from coal-related activities adjacent to the school are impacting the air quality — and therefore increasing human health risk — at the school.” Simonton added:

This dust not only impacts the exterior areas of the school, but interior areas as well.


According to Simonton’s report, air sampling found levels of very fine particulates above the levels that is considered safe, especially for children:

My concern about the school is that dust levels not only appear to exceed human health reference levels, but that the dust is largely made up of coal.

Coal dust contains silica, trace metals, and poly-nuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), many of which are known human carcinogens.

PAHs have been found in dust samples taken at the school. Inhalation of coal dust is known to cause adverse health effects in humans, however, studies of coal dust toxicity are understandably mostly of adult populations. Children are particularly at risk from dust exposure in general, so it is reasonable to assume that coal dust creates an even greater risk for children than it does adults.

How much of a risk? Well, another expert for the residents’ lawyer, Ph.D. epidemiologist Shira Kramer, producted this report, which concludes that:

Coal dust has been identified in samples collected indoors and outdoors at
Marsh Fork Elementary School. Students at Marsh Fork Elementary
are likely to be at increased risk of adverse health effects, both currently and in the future, as a result of exposure to coal dust, quartz, PAHs, and other constituents of coal dust. Furthermore, children are exquisitely sensitive to the harmful effects of exposure to environmental toxicants, even at doses below the no-effect level in adults.