Coal Tattoo

Trial starts in Marsh Fork Elementary case

Testimony began yesterday in a civil lawsuit that alleges hundreds or Raleigh County children should get medical monitoring to determine if they’ve been made sick by exposure to coal dust from the Massey Energy coal loading and storage operation adjacent to Marsh Fork Elementary School.

The Associated Press has this report on yesterday’s proceedings:

A jury of seven women heard opening statements from lawyers who brought the class-action lawsuit on behalf of an unknown number of current and former pupils at Marsh Fork Elementary against Richmond, Va.-based Massey and several subsidiaries.

The plaintiffs claim Massey improperly built the silo 235 feet from the school, which allowed dangerous levels of coal dust to enter the building and put children at risk of black lung disease and asthma.

“Massey owes a duty to do no harm,” plaintiffs’ lawyer Kevin Thompson said. “Massey could have built the silo further away. The wrong is building the silo next to the school.”

The Beckley Register-Herald has more on the start of the trial:

Defense attorney Dan Stickler showed the jury a photo of both the new and old silos. He said the coal dust could have emanated from the old silo, but that the new one is upgraded and there is “no open storage.”

This silo is built to permit specifications, he explained, and there has never been violations of that permit the entire time the silo has been there.

“There’s not a lot of coal dust in that silo,” he said. “It’s fully contained.”

Stickler also charged that the plaintiffs had five years to monitor the interior of the school for particulate matter but they chose not to do so. He explained that the silo is heavily inspected by the Division of Air Quality and the EPA.

“This is the most inspected facility in the world,” he explained. “The EPA said there was no problem with the silo in relation to the school.”

We’ve had much coverage over the years of the situation down at Marsh Fork Elementary, going back to the controversy over the WVDEP’s approval of the silos, to the state Supreme Court’s ruling on that matter, and the more recent plans for a new school out of the path of Massey’s operations. See also here and here for more about questions regarding the safety of the school’s current location.