Jimmy Murphy of Sprigg, W.Va., holds a jar filled with well water from his home he says was contaminated with coal slurry by Massey Energy and subsidiary Rawl Sales & Processing, prior to court hearing Monday, Nov. 15, 2010, in Charleston, W.Va. Hundreds of plaintiffs are gathering in Charleston to see if they can resolve a water pollution lawsuit against Virginia-based Massey Energy. (AP Photo/Jeff Gentner)
My buddy Dr. Paul Nyden had the story in Sunday’s Gazette-Mail about today’s big series of mediation sessions in the Mingo County lawsuit that alleges Massey Energy contaminated drinking water in the towns of Rawl, Lick Creek, Merrimac and Sprigg with slurry from a coal-processing plant.
The story is here, and as Nyden reports:
Lawsuits filed by current and former residents of those towns claim they suffered health problems including chronic gastrointestinal disorders, skin cancers and major organ cancers.
Many say they also suffered from developmental disorders from extensive exposure to lead and other toxins when they were children.
The lawsuits claim that Rawl Sales and Processing, a Massey subsidiary, pumped more than 1.4 billion gallons of toxic slurry into old underground mine shafts, which ended up poisoning wells residents depended on until getting city water from the county seat of Williamson three years ago.
Dr. Charles Werntz, a West Virginia University Medical School professor of health sciences, said water in the coal towns was contaminated with a number of different metals and other chemicals.
“Slurry syndrome” caused skin rashes, boils, diarrhea and teeth problems, Werntz said.
“When people got fresh water from Williamson in 2007, those symptoms for the most part improved,” he said. “One of the biggest victories for people in those communities was getting drinkable water.”
Werntz said the “syndrome” also included more serious diseases, such as kidney failures and a variety of cancers.
“The number of people who had kidney failure was greater than one would expect to see otherwise,” he said. “Some skin cancers rates were also higher than what one would normally expect. A variety of other conditions have also affected people.”
Werntz said fresh water going into those Mingo County towns ended exposure to toxic chemicals.
“But the bad thing is that some of the diseases that come from those exposures might not be evident right away,” he said.
Mingo County residents wait in a line prior to a court hearing Monday, Nov. 15, 2010, in Charleston, W.Va. Hundreds of plaintiffs claim that Massey and subsidiary Rawl Sales & Processing have poisoned their water wells in Mingo County with 1.4 billion gallons of toxic coal slurry. They gathered at the Charleston Civic Center Monday morning for what is expected to be the start of a three-day meeting with a panel of judges to see if they can resolve a water pollution lawsuit against Virginia-based Massey Energy. (AP Photo/Jeff Gentner)
By way of background:
The lawsuits against Rawl Sales were filed in 2004 before Mingo County Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury.
Later, State Supreme Court Chief Justice Robin Davis required Thornsbury to recuse himself after learning Thornsbury represented Rawl Sales in earlier blasting litigation in the same areas where coal slurry allegedly contaminated wells.
If settlements cannot be reached in Charleston, the mass litigation panel will send the case to the Ohio County Circuit Court in Wheeling for a trial tentatively scheduled to begin in August.
In 2006, a court injunction required Massey Energy to provide drinking water to local residents until they gained access to clean drinking water from Williamson.
Water lines providing that clean water were completed in April 2007. With help from Rep. Nick Rahall and the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd, both D-W.Va., those water lines were financed with money from the federal Abandoned Mine Lands program.