Coal Tattoo

SSP organizer Bobby Mitchell labeling a black water sample from Prenter. Photo from the Sludge Safety Project.

I’m just back from the Capitol here in Charleston, where folks from the Sludge Safety Project held a press conference to publicize the public release of two expert reports filed in the case filed by several hundred residents of the community of Prenter over their allegation that coal slurry has poisoned their drinking water.

The two reports are available here and here, and the bottom line, as described by the organization is:

Conclusion: coal slurry leaking out of the underground impoundments in the old coal mines and released from the plant or various discharge points within the NPDES permits in Laurel Lick and Sand Lick leach metals while percolating through the aquifer consisting of the coal waste valley fill, zone of shallow weathered and fractured bedrock and alluvium. The metals are thus transported downstream to the location of the residential water wells.

Speakers at the press conference included Laura Merner, Ph.D. candidate in hydrology and SSP volunteer, the Rev. Jim Lewis, and Prenter resident Jennifer Hall-Massey, whose story of watching her neighbors get sick and die was told so well in The Last Mountain film.

Interestingly, Rev. Lewis mentioned that they would have had a bigger crowd of West Virginia residents at the press conference, but that folks from the Rawl area, who recently settled their coal-slurry contamination lawsuit, are concerned about still being covered by a gag order issued by a panel of judges overseeing that case. If the gag order isn’t lifted, Rawl resident might not be able to travel to Charleston this legislative session to tell lawmakers about their experience and lobby for tougher regulation of coal-slurry handling and disposal.