The AP’s Vicki Smith has the jump this morning on the results of the final portion of the legislatively mandated study of coal-slurry injection practices in West Virginia.
Here’s the bottom line:
The process for development of analyses of what is known about water contamination from coal slurry injection and known, probable, or potential effects upon human health involves a comparison of the known toxicity of coal slurry components “downstream” (either riverine or underground) water contamination, compared to known or suspected human toxicities from the peer-reviewed literature. There are innumerable considerations in this process, and no effort can be complete. For example, the current state of science measures inorganic compounds and elements better than organics, and provides a much richer data base on their health consequences. This is one of many immutable “data gaps” that we identified in this investigation. The absence of sufficient data implies a need to learn; it does not necessarily imply the absence or presence of a problem or a means to do assessments in the absence of data.
Vicki put it this way in her story:
Legislators have waited 31/2 years and spent more than $220,000 to learn whether coal slurry pumped into abandoned underground mines is dangerous to people who live nearby. The answer? No one knows.
A new 418-page report by researchers at West Virginia University concludes that while the wastewater from cleaning coal could potentially affect water supplies, wells and public health, there’s no proof it has or will.
Coal industry officials and their politician friends will no doubt seize on this statement from the report:
No public health problem, attributable only to coal slurry, can be documented from available data.
But let’s home they also read this:
However, the important limitations of the statement stem from the sparse quantity of available data, as well as the clear temporal limitations of available data.
Don’t forget the previous Coal Tattoo post, WVDEP’s ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy on coal slurry, which documented that while WVDEP said it didn’t have enough information to say if coal slurry was a problem, agency officials also had historically not required the type of monitoring that would generate that important data.
As the report explained:
The absence of sufficient data implies a need to learn; it does not necessarily imply the absence or presence of a problem or a means to do assessments in the absence of data.