Residents of Mingo, Boone, Raleigh, Kanawha counties again packed the
Senate Judiciary Committee room to hear more testimony about the
underground injection of coal slurry and groundwater contamination.
(At prep plants, coal companies use chemicals to wash coal for
market. The waste from the coal washing
process is called slurry. Slurry is
earth dams or injected underground--by the billions of gallons.
Some coal prep plant workers are very ill, and
suing the manufactures of the chemicals used in the coal prep
William Orem, a research geochemist for the U.S. Geological Survey in
Reston, Va., told the joint interim subcommittee studying the issue
about a high incidence of pelvic cancer and a disease that causes renal failure in
coal-producing areas of Louisiana and western states. A study of coal
slurry sites in Tennessee found nearby declines in
freshwater mussels, which filter water. "They are a sort of the canary in the coal mine," Orem said.
"We don't know much about coal slurry chemistry. We need to have a
better handle on what happens when you inject this into the subsurface,"
That's why members of the Sludge Safety Project asked for these
legislative meetings. What we are asking the Legislature to authorize a
study that will tell the public:
- How much ground water has been contaminated by
underground injection of coal slurry (we know of at least 400 injection
points around the state);
- How underground injections have impacted human
health and safety;
- What specific chemicals are in coal slurry.
Officials from the WV Department of Environmental Protection seem to
know what chemicals are in the slurry. They essentially told the
legislators, and the jam-packed hearing room, "Trust us, trust the coal
Chad Board, who manages
DEP's underground injection "control" permit program, told lawmakers
that DEP assesses every chemical used to process the coal, and that coal
industry tests the chemicals at the injection sites. He said
there are about 100 chemicals the coal industry can use to clean coal
for market. (Yes, Sludge Safety Project will be asking DEP for a listing of those
chemicals. So far, we have only been able to
identify about 60, and we can't get safety information on all them
because what's in these chemicals can be "trade secrets.")
Diesel fuel, which apparently can be used to float coal as it is
being washed, is not allowed to be injected underground, Board told the
committee. He did not say since when. DEP has only been "regulating"
underground injection of coal slurry since 2000, but the practice has
been going on since at last 1980. So, maybe that oily sheen with the diesel smell people sometimes report in their
well water is from before the DEP got everything under control.
Guess we can believe them that they now will forbid the coal industry
from using diesel fuel in prepping coal. That only leaves 99
chemicals to worry about.
George Jenkins, a DEP hydrologist DEP, told the committee no proof
has emerged to link contaminated well water with underground injection
of coal slurry. "Scientific evidence doesnt back that up," he told
lawmakers. "Were not seeing that those slurry things are the
Hey, if you don't look for those slurry things, how can you see? What's
so scary about authorizing a study?
Jenkins said water within a half-mile radius is constantly monitored
during the permitting process.
"You know that water doesnt necessarily stop within a half-mile
radius," Delegate Robert Tabb, D-Jefferson, noted to Jenkins.
The coal industry will present its side of the story at the December
Interims, but WV Coal Association vice president Chris Hamilton was
already spinning to the receptive media. He suggested what is happening
in Mingo County is just an isolated thing. Maybe the slurry just hasn't
bubbled up elsewhere yet. Hamilton also maligned the scientists that
spoke in October. Gee--imagine the Legislature actually hearing from
scientists not on the coal industry's payroll. What a concept!
Hamilton also tried to link the citizens pleas to the legislature
with the lawsuit on this issue that is ongoing in Mingo County. Both
have been a long time coming. People have been trying to be heard on
this issue for at least 14 years. Last time we checked, Americans could
still petition both the courts and their so-called representatives in
government for redress of grievances.
Hamilton went so far as to suggest that taxes the state levees on
coal industry (which the industry regularly lobbies to reduce) be used
for installing drinking water lines around the state. Great--the coal
industry profits by polluting the groundwater at will. The state pays to
install city water everywhere. Brilliant. And, wow, groundwater and
surface water never interact, so we will all live happily ever after.
Sorry, Hamilton, but in this fairy tale, the citizens demand to be
heard. What a minute, pinch me--this is reality, and the people are
standing up to the coal industry's bullying ways. The people's fairy
tale comes true, and that is apparently the polluter's nightmare.
Pictures from the second meeting are below.