Coal silo protest

Coal silo protest

13 arrested in governor’s office

By Staff, wire reports

Police arrested 13 protesters Friday afternoon who occupied Gov. Joe Manchin’s reception area to protest Massey Energy’s plan to build a coal silo near a Raleigh County elementary school.

The demonstrators were handcuffed and carried to police vehicles after they refused orders to clear a security area in the back of the governor’s reception area, police said.

Ed Wiley, a Raleigh County grandfather who walked 455 miles from his home in Raleigh County to Washington, D.C., last fall to draw attention to pollution near Marsh Fork Elementary School, was among those arrested.

Several protesters refused to walk and were carried and dragged by State Police troopers and Capitol police.

“I was surprised,” said Kim Teplitzky, a demonstrator who remained in the Capitol after the arrests.

A small crowd of protesters surrounded police as they arrested demonstrators, filming the arrests on camcorders and threatening to file charges of police brutality.

Those arraigned on Friday evening were Wiley, 49, of Rock Creek; Abraham Mwaura, 26, of Huntington; Abram G. Racin, 24, of Morgantown; Charles Price, 50, of Charleston; Wendy Ross, 56, of Charleston; Michael Morrison, 48, of Barboursville; Larry L. Gibson, 61, of Dawes; Hillary Anne Hosta, 34, of Naoma; Sarah Melissa Kidder, 24, of Fayetteville; Charles E. Nelson, 50, of Glen Daniel; Colin W. Cascia, 22, of Philadelphia; Matthew Christian Stiefel, 21, of Morgantown; and Franklin D. Young, 61, of Ripley.

The protesters were charged with misdemeanour obstruction. All 13 were released on personal recognizance bonds. As a condition of their bond, they are not allowed to return to the Capitol for the purpose of protesting.

The arrested demonstrators were among about 50 protesters who took their fight against Massey’s Goals Coal Co. subsidiary to the state Capitol on Friday morning, vowing not to leave until Manchin agreed to sign a pledge to relocate the elementary school.

Accompanied by musicians and carrying a cardboard replica of the school, they marched into the governor’s outer office following a midmorning rally in the Capitol Rotunda.

Minutes before the arrests, Joe Martin, Manchin’s deputy chief of staff, read a statement from the governor to the crowd.

The statement said Manchin would encourage the Raleigh County school board to put the decision of building a new school at Marsh Fork to a countywide vote, but stressed that decision is out of the governor’s hands.

“Before the state can get involved in issues such as whether a school should be moved or if a new school should be built, a decision must first be made at the local level,” Martin read.

During occasionally tense exchanges earlier in the day, Martin tried to persuade the protesters to stop chanting and singing.

At one point, Wiley shouted at Martin, “Enough of this whispering in my ear, telling me to settle this down. We’ll raise the roof off the dang place,” which was met by cheers from the protesters.

Many of the protesters were from West Virginia’s southern coalfields, but some were college students from Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina and Maine, in Southern West Virginia as part of an anti-mountaintop removal project called Mountain Justice Spring Break.

Demonstrators have come to West Virginia this weekend as part of a planned series of protests against what they call environmental abuse throughout the state.

The protest follows Tuesday’s ruling by the state Surface Mine Board that reversed the rejection of a necessary permit for the silo.

Massey Energy Co. subsidiary Goals Coal Co. is seeking a second storage silo for its preparation plant next door to Marsh Fork.

Manchin’s Department of Environmental Protection filed an appeal Thursday challenging the mine board’s ruling. DEP lawyer Tom Clarke asked for a stay of the board ruling while the appeal is heard, and argued that the board ruling alone — without a subsequent DEP permit approval under the board’s legal standard — does not allow the silo construction to start.

The DEP initially issued a permit for the 168-foot-tall silo, but revoked it in July 2005, saying a Massey engineer had enlarged the submitted map’s permit boundary from previously approved permits. Goals Coal then submitted a new application, which was rejected last year because federal and state laws prohibit new mining operations within 300 feet of a school.

Protesters want the school closed and a new one built at a different location.

After the arrests, some protesters went to magistrate court, while others marched to the Rotunda of the Capitol. Jay Smithers, director of the Division of Protective Services and head of the Capitol police, told protesters they were welcome to stay in the governor’s reception room until 5 p.m., or until 7 p.m. in the rest of the Capitol.

In addition to closing the school, the group wants to shut down Goals Coal’s preparation plant and a 1,849-acre mountaintop removal mine site and a 2.8 billion-gallon-capacity coal sludge dam about 400 yards from the school.

Don Blankenship, Richmond, Va.-based Massey’s chief executive officer, said the second silo would enable the company to make additional environmental improvements and cut down the amount of coal dust at the site.

But when it denied the silo permit for a second time last year, the DEP noted that there had never been an open coal stockpile in the area where the silos were planned. And in February 2006, the DEP turned down a related Massey permit request to double the allowable air pollution from the Goals Coal site.

In a federal court lawsuit, Blankenship alleges that the DEP is fighting the silo project as part of Manchin’s effort to punish Massey for Blankenship’s political involvement against the governor.

Chemicals Found in Coal Sludge and Slurry

Chemicals Found in Coal Sludge and Slurry

To process Appalachian coal for the market, companies wash and prepare it using water, coagulants, flocculants and surfactants.  Coal slurry consists of this chemically treated water and very fine particles of coal, rock and clay. 

The rock, coal, and clays contain a wide range of heavy metals including arsenic, lead, cadmium, chromium, iron, manganese, aluminium and nickel—all of which dissolve in the water—and some hydrocarbons and other organic chemicals.  While patent law limits the information available about the chemicals used in coal processing, serious concerns about their neurotoxic and carcinogenic effects particularly on workers in the plants [link] have been raised.

Reagents used in processing coal include acrylamides, (some acrylamides are carcinogenic), lime (pH adjuster), natural and modified starches, caustic starch, denatured alcohol, sulfuric acid (pH adjuster), nitric acid (pH adjuster), aluminium sulfate (pH adjuster), iron oxide, diesel fuel and anhydrous ammonia. 

There have been very few independent tests of the composition of coal slurry.  Since the chemical composition of slurry can be variable depending on the chemical make-up of the coal being processed as well as the chemicals used in a particular prep plant’s washing technique, this means that citizens can have a hard time figuring out exactly what chemicals they are at risk of exposure to.

Underground Injections

Underground Injections

An underground injection is a form of coal waste disposal whereby the coal sludge is mixed with water and pumped into abandoned underground mine workings.   Once underground, the slurry can mix with water and migrate into nearby aquifers contaminating local water supplies with dangerous levels of heavy metals.  In the heavily mined Appalachian coalfields, cracks often develop in old mines from subsidence or blasting from surface mines above them.  Once the slurry injection has begun, there is no practical way to seal cracks or remove the slurry if there is a problem.  The old mines can stretch for miles underground and billions of gallons of slurry can be injected at a single site.  In some places, the slurry has been injected for over 30 years.

In at least two communities in West Virginia, there is extensive evidence that slurry injection has contaminated well water.  In the Rawl area of Mingo County and the Seth-Prenter area of Boone County, billions of gallons of coal slurry were injected into abandoned mines near small communities that relied on well water.  Residents of both communities watched their once pristine well water begin to run yellow, orange or black at times.   Sinks, tubs, and clothes became permanently stained and all kinds of metal fixtures and appliances started corroding rapidly.  Worse yet, sicknesses began to spread throughout the community from skin rashes and severe diarrhoea to cancer and kidney failure.  Testing revealed iron, manganese, lead, aluminium, arsenic and other heavy metals, sometimes at hundreds of times the safe drinking water limits.  Toxic amounts of hydrogen sulfide gas (that rotten egg smell) were also throughout homes.  The Sludge Safety Project worked with both communities to secure municipal water line extensions.  In both communities, hundreds of residents sued the companies for damage to their health and property.

Nobody knows when the practice of slurry injection first began, since initially there was no regulation of the practice.  It was heavily used in Appalachia in the late 1970s and early 1980s when impoundments were difficult to build after the Buffalo Creek Disaster.  The Safe Drinking Water Act gave the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the power to regulate underground injection and made unpermitted injection illegal in 1974.  However, coal companies injected slurry illegally anyway.  In 1984, the EPA caught Eastern Coal Company injecting illegally into a mine that was being used as a public water source in Pike County, Ky., by investigating a citizen complaint.  The EPA ordered the injection stopped and began to try to regulate slurry injection.  It wasn’t until 1999 that the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) developed its own Underground Injection Control (UIC) office and “modern” regulation of slurry began. 

The DEP says that groundwater is protected by requiring the slurry to be watered down to meet Safe Drinking Water Act standards before it is injected.  However,  a DEP hydrologist admitted in a legislative hearing that the only reason that black coal slurry met Safe Drinking Water Act standards was that the standards did not cover the contaminants that make it black.  The inadequate regulations that are in place are poorly enforced.  Until recently, mining injections were overseen by a single person.  In 2007, the Sludge Safety Project successfully lobbied the West Virginia Legislature to order a study of the impact of slurry injection on groundwater and human health.  Despite being over-deadline, flawed, and inconclusive, the study revealed troubling facts about the UIC program.  Every plant in the study had had a least one major slurry spill.  The injectate at some plants was chronically in violations of the standards; plants were frequently using unapproved chemicals in the washing process, and monitoring of the mines getting injected into was inadequate or totally absent.

The problems were so severe that the DEP declared a temporary moratorium on new slurry injection permits and extensive changes to the regulations immediately upon releasing their report in the spring of 2009.  Companies were required to test for many more contaminants and, for the first time, were required to regularly test the water in the mine receiving an injection and nearby groundwater for contamination.  They also doubled the program staff to two people.  Since the new regulations, the number of plants injecting slurry has been cut nearly in half with only around a half dozen left.  The Sludge Safety Project continues to work to make the current moratorium permanent and phase-out of the remaining active injection sites.

What is Coal Slurry

What is Coal Slurry

Coal slurry or sludge is a waste fluid produced by washing coal with water and chemicals prior to shipping the coal to market.  When coal is mined underground or by high walls or auger miners, there are significant amounts of rocks and clays mixed in.  These materials must be removed before the coal can be sold to power plants or steel mills.  In Appalachia and the Illinois Basin, coal companies use a process called “wet washing” to reduce the amount of non-combustible material.  There are other methods of separating coal and non-coal used in other places, primarily where mining occurs in arid areas with limited water supplies. 

In a wet washing plant or coal preparation plant, the raw coal is crushed and mixed with a large amount of water, magnetite, and organic chemicals.  The chemicals are primarily patented surfactants, designed to separate clays from the coal, and flocculants, designed to make small particles clump together.  In massive “flotation columns”, most of the coal floats to the surface, and most of the other material (called “coarse refuse”) sinks to the bottom.  The huge volume of wastewater left over is coal slurry.  In the slurry are particles of rock, clay, and coal too small to float or sink as well as all the chemicals used to wash the coal.  While the coal industry likes to claim that the particles of “natural rock strata” and chemicals are perfectly safe, testing has shown coal slurry to be highly toxic.

More on Chemicals in Coal Slurry


Chronic exposure to the metals found in coal slurry can damage virtually every part of the body. Health problems caused by these metals include intestinal lesions, neuropathy, kidney and liver failure, cancer, high blood pressure, brittle bones, miscarriages, and birth defects among others.  Studies of the effects of coal slurry on human cell tissues have found evidence that coal slurry causes cancerous proliferation, cell death, and damage to kidney cells. 

More on Coal Slurry and Health

Impoundments and slurry cells

Every preparation plant produces many thousands of gallons of coal slurry each day, requiring massive disposal areas.  The most slurry is disposed of above ground either in massive toxic lakes called impoundments (made by damming up a hollow) or in smaller pits constructed of coarse refuse called slurry cells.  Not only do these facilities often leach toxins and cause black water spills, but there have also been several catastrophic failures resulting to toxic floods, massive property destruction, and death.

More on Impoundments and Slurry Cells


Slurry not stored above ground is pumped, or “injected,” into abandoned underground mines.  Once underground it can migrate into the groundwater contaminating local well water, especially when blasting from surface mining occurs in the area.  Several communities have had their water supply contaminated by underground injection causing widespread, often life-threatening illnesses.

More on Coal Slurry Injection


Technologies exist to remove and reuse the water in slurry, resulting in a dry waste product that can be more safely and easily contained.  While some of these technologies were in widespread use in Appalachia in the early 1980s, today few plants use them due to the increased costs.

More on Alternatives to Coal Slurry

Wiley arrives in Washington

Wiley arrives in Washington

By the Associated Press

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A Raleigh County grandfather arrived in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, ending a 455-mile walk to draw attention to pollution near Marsh Fork Elementary School.

Ed Wiley, 49, met with Sen. Robert C. Byrd after arriving in the nation’s capital. He planned to meet with Rep. Nick Rahall as well.

Wiley left Charleston on Aug. 2 to raise awareness about the school’s location next door to a coal refuse pond and preparation plant. He also hoped to build public support to build a new school in a different location.

Wiley represents a local fundraising campaign called Pennies of Promise, which has said a new school would cost $5 million.

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has twice denied Goals Coal Co.’s application to build a second coal silo next to the elementary school.

The Massey Energy subsidiary wants to build a 168-foot-tall silo 260 feet from the school. But those plans drew protests last year because of concerns over student health and the environment. Richmond, Va.-based Massey operates an identical silo, built-in 2003, just 225 feet from the school.

The silo stores coal and loads rail cars 150 feet from school grounds. After loading, the operation sprays a binding agent over the coal.

Coal in the classroom

Coal in the classroom

Opposition to mountaintop removal mining is becoming part of the curriculum at a growing number of colleges and universities.

On Election Day, Dave Cooper stood in the President’s Dining Room at Hollins University and made a solemn announcement.

“I’m an environmental activist,” he told more than two dozen college students who had carried their lunch down the hall. “To some people, that means ‘wacko.’ “

Cooper is an engineer by training, a former employee of 3M who quit that job to spread the word about mountaintop removal coal mining.

Supported by honorariums from colleges and contributions from environmental organizations, he takes the Mountaintop Removal Road Show around the eastern United States.

“That helps cover my travel expenses but mostly I sleep on couches and eat peanut butter sandwiches and cereal,” the 47-year-old Cooper e-mailed between sessions in Ohio.

He’s in the middle of a 12-state tour, appearing often on college campuses. He used to visit student environmental groups. Now, he often brings opposition to mountaintop removal mining into the classroom as well.

More than one professor has called that a no-brainer.

RU professor Jeremy Wojdak was happy to have Cooper address his pollution biology class. Students have read and talked a lot about theory, Wojdak said. The roadshow was their introduction to how issues play out in the real world.

“I think, at the very least, hearing someone with first-hand experience gets the students’ attention in a way that won’t if I tell them,” Wojdak said.

Laura Meder, an Averett University professor who teaches courses in environmental problems and environmental policy and law, said, “I wanted people to get a chance to hear from people who face this in their daily lives. For these two classes that I teach it’s a really good real-life example.”

Last year, Cooper brought Pauline Canterberry and Mary Miller to Meder’s Danville classroom. The two elderly women brought bags of coal dust that had settled on their porch and stories about a mine and processing plant devaluing their home and degrading their lives.

This time Cooper brought Eric Blevins, a recent graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, who helped convince students to impose a fee on themselves so the university could buy electricity from renewable sources.

The hair Cooper has left is short. He favours khakis and a tweed jacket.

Blevins’ hair falls halfway down his back. He’s bearded. He wears jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt with the “Defend what you love” printed across the front.

They have a bifurcated routine. Cooper lays out the problem, explaining the mountaintop removal process and playing a DVD or slide show that expands on what he’s said. Then Blevins suggests things that can be done about it.

Cooper and Blevins rolled the roadshow into a Radford University classroom a little more than a week ago. It was early afternoon. The room was warm and stuffy. Nevertheless — with the exception of one young man who wrestled with his apparently leaden eyelids — Cooper and Blevins held the undergraduates’ attention through explanations of federal mining laws and descriptions of the effects of mountaintop removal mining.

The students heard about valley fills, blackwater spills, overburden, floods and approximate original contour. About 3 million pounds of explosives are used on Appalachian strip mines every day, Cooper told the students.

Jennifer Bowman shook her head, her eyes widening as the statistics and pictures flashed by.

She knew about mountaintop removal mining, but the scale surprised her.

“I don’t know how we can do something as bad as this and get away with it,” Bowman said. “I just think it’s really sad and something ought to be done about it.”

That’s the response Cooper hopes for. He passes out clipboards at each session, asking students to sign up if they’re interested in learning more or helping the cause.

“If you’re really, really interested, put a star by your name,” he said in Radford.

At Radford, he also promoted a gathering at Kayford Mountain, W.Va., a site that’s become familiar to people familiar with the anti-mountaintop removal movement. The remnants of Larry Gibson’s family farm is surrounded by mountaintop removal mines. Marsh Fork Elementary School is near the foot of Kayford Mountain. A mountaintop removal mine, with the attendant sludge pond and coal silo, looms over the school.

About 60 students visited Gibson the weekend after Cooper and Blevins visited Radford. A third of those students came from Radford University.

Julia Hasty, a member of the school’s Green Team, was among them.

“This weekend woke me up,” she wrote in an e-mail the day after returning. “It was definitely an emotional experience. On Saturday night we all gathered around a fire and talked about all we had seen and felt. … It was really sad when we left. It was sad to me that I was going back to a coal-dependent university that was paid for by the blood and children of the people that I had met and befriended in the Appalachian mountains in West Virginia.

“I swear I’ll make a change. I just need help.”

Meder wishes she’d hear more talk like that from her students.

“This is not a very activist campus,” she said of Averett. “I wish that it were.”

At Hollins, Godard is trying to get students interested in environmental issues by relating them to social justice issues.

“It’s this big push we’ve got going and these guys are part of it,” Godard said.

There’s apparently no similar push to bring pro-mining forces into college classrooms.

The Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research, which is working on clean coal technology, is based at Virginia Tech. The Powell River Project, which explores ways to reuse land that’s been surface-mined, has roots at Tech, too. Both groups have educational programs, but they are aimed at elementary or high school students.

Wojdak, the Radford professor, said he’s sure the one-sidedness of the presentation disturbs some students, but there’s only so much he can do about that.

“They’re our one and only guest speaker,” Wojdak said, “for budgetary reasons.”

Coal slurry spills into Raleigh creek

Coal slurry spills into Raleigh creek

A Massey Energy Co. subsidiary’s plant spilt about 10,000 gallons of coal slurry in Raleigh County on Saturday, according to state regulators.

The slurry was released into the Little Marsh Fork Creek, which empties into the Coal River.

“It’s a big spill,” said Bo Webb, a member of the Coal River Mountain Watch environmental group.

Webb said he contacted officials with the state Department of Environmental Protection, who told him that Massey officials reported a small spill around 11 a.m.

Jessica Greathouse, a spokeswoman for the DEP, said the booster pump failed at the Marfork Preparation Plant in Pettus.

About five miles of Little Marsh Fork were affected, she said.

An inspector issued a cessation order, and the plant was shut down until the pump can be fixed, she said.

Officials with Massey Energy did not return calls.

Massey sued by Feds

Massey sued by Feds

Coal firms violated Clean Air Act more than 4,630 times, prosecutors allege

By The Associated Press

Federal prosecutors allege that Massey Energy Co. and its subsidiaries have illegally poured pollutants into West Virginia and Kentucky waterways about 4,633 times within the past six years — roughly 69,071 days’ worth of violations of the U.S. Clean Water Act.

The U.S. District Court lawsuit asks a judge to block further discharges and fine seven of the subsidiaries either $27,500 or $32,500 for each day of violation, depending on when each occurred.

The lawsuit attributed “an extensive history of violating the Clean Water Act” to Massey operations.

“Despite several prior enforcement actions, including two criminal plea agreements, settlement of suspension and debarment matters, civil actions by the state of West Virginia and the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and private suits by citizens of West Virginia and Kentucky, Massey Energy and its subsidiaries continue to violate the CWA,” the lawsuit said.

The federal action was filed Thursday in Charleston. It comes after the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration levied $1.5 million in fines against Massey last month. Those penalties are for 25 violations stemming from a fire at the company’s Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine in Logan County that killed two miners.

The January 2006 fire remains the subject of a federal criminal probe. West Virginia regulators have fined the company $70,000 over Aracoma violations, while the miners’ widows have sued Massey, several subsidiaries and President, CEO and Chairman Don Blankenship.

Blankenship and other Massey officials could not be reached for comment late Friday.

Prosecutors cite monitoring reports filed with West Virginia and Kentucky between January 2000 and March 2006, showing 4,100 violations of permitted average monthly or maximum daily discharge limits. West Virginia reported another 533 permit limit violations from April through December 2006, the lawsuit said.

West Virginia inspectors documented 534 of the violations during January 2000 to March 2006 time frame, the lawsuit said. The lawsuit also draws from 255 violations that allegedly occurred in the course of 1,943 violations of federal mining regulations.

The lawsuit threatens civil penalties against Elk Run Coal Co., Sidney Coal Co., Martin County Coal Co., Independence Coal Co., Omar Mining Co., Bandmill Coal Corp. and Marfork Coal Co.

Massey operates 19 mining complexes in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia. The company is the fourth-largest coal producer by revenue in the United States.

EPA checks Marsh Fork Elementary for coal dust

EPA checks Marsh Fork Elementary for coal dust

Preliminary tests done by a Region III Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) investigative team at Marsh Fork Elementary found no signs of excessive dust or coal dust outside or inside the school. Raleigh County Schools requested that the agency do additional testing during August 15-17.

Their final report may take several more weeks to be completed, said team lead investigator Bill Steuteville, Region III EPA multi-media enforcement coordinator. Multi-media refers to soil, air and water.

A coal dust silo stands 225 feet from the school. Dust samples collected in the school in January by D. Scott Simonton, P.E., PhD showed coal dust in all seven samples. Simonton is vice-chair of the state Environmental Quality Board. Dr. Dewey Sanderson, Professor of Geology at Marshall University, analyzed the dust samples.

Particulates analyzed in January were coal dust. Size varied, but most were smaller than 10 microns, said Bo Webb, Coal River Mountain Watch member.

Wiley’s meeting with

Senator Byrd

Ed Wiley walked from Charleston to Washington, D.C. to raise awareness about safety concerns about the school, which is surrounded by mining operations.

Wiley walked through Morgan County in late August. He arrived at the nation’s capital last Wednesday and met with Senator Robert Byrd and Congressman Nick Rahall to talk about the school’s issues.

Issues include a toxic coal sludge pond above the school, reports that the pond dam is periodically leaking, numerous dam compaction rate violations, blasting at an adjacent surface mining operation, coal trains idling 150-200 feet behind the school spewing diesel exhaust, antifreeze sprayed on the coal to minimize dust and other toxic chemicals and heavy metal impurities involved in manufacturing.

Wiley’s concerns about trees rotting inside the sludge pond and breaking off and puncturing the dam appear to have been addressed. In 1972, a similar sludge pond dam failed at Buffalo Creek and 125 people died as black water flooded the valley.

The sludge impoundment dam is regularly inspected, said Jessica Whitehouse, West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection spokesperson. There is a permissible amount of seepage from the dam, she said. Inspectors are usually onsite to monitor the dam during periods of heavy rain, said Whitehouse.]

EPA testing

During the EPA testing at Marsh Fork Elementary, five real-time air-monitoring devices were placed at various distances upwind, downwind and crosswind from the coal dust silo said Steuteville. One air monitor was placed in the playground area. The devices registered particulate counts, temperature and humidity in the air over a five-hour period.

The tests were begun before a coal train was loaded and continued for several more hours after loading was over. No increase in particulates was attributed to loading, said Steuteville.

Found two urgent issues

The team identified two issues that needed immediate attention during their inspection of the mining operations and the school for dust and compliance.

Asbestos was found on a pipe inside a school basement crawlspace. The asbestos has been sealed off and will be removed at the end of the school year when students won’t be present. Asbestos is a common problem in schools built prior to 1980.

As requested by the EPA inspectors, the coal company is voluntarily removing two 1,000-gallon tanks of anhydrous ammonia that are situated around 600 feet from the school. Anhydrous ammonia is used to adjust the pH of the wastewater byproduct of coal manufacturing.

Anhydrous ammonia is considered an extremely hazardous substance under the Clean Air Act, said Steuteville. In an accident, it would send up a toxic cloud, he said. The coal plant is switching to a temporary caustic soda system in place of the ammonia, he said.

Steuteville examined the school grounds and every room in the school for signs of coal dust and excessive dust but didn’t find any. One gymnasium rafter appeared darker than expected. Their team also looked at every aspect of the mining operation and observed no dust except in a few situations. Excessive dust was not a problem onsite, said Steuteville.

The investigative team is now examining the size and components of coal dust particles and possible toxicity at low exposures, he said. Steuteville is researching the toxic effects of coal dust and black lung. There is limited research available, he said. Much more testing could be done and there are indications that it would be appropriate, he said

Coal dust can stay in the lungs

Dustless than seven microns gets in the lungs and can stay there, said Dr Alan Ducatman, Professor and Chair of the Department of Community Medicine at the West Virginia University School of Medicine.

“Smaller particles have a larger active surface area relative to their mass and are generally considered more dangerous,” said Ducatman.

White cells can clear carbon dust out of the lungs to some degree, but not completely, he said. That is why miners, smokers and some third world city dwellers have black carbon accumulations in their lungs. Coal dust can set off an inflammatory cascade that can lead to disease, he said. There would need to be a sufficient dose of coal dust, as is seen in miners, Ducatman noted.

Length of time for inflammatory response is dose-dependent and complex, being affected by peak dosages, which are more dangerous, said Ducatman. Exposure to coal dust or asbestos can lead to pulmonary fibrosis, he said. He doubted if children would get sufficient coal dust dosage in their school life to get fibrosis. Whether diesel exhaust was in the breathing zones of the children would have to be examined.

“Diesel exhaust has numerous toxicities, including carcinogenesis. It is not a desirable exposure,” said Ducatman.

Exposure levels to coal dust and diesel exhaust at Marsh Fork Elementary have not been determined. Ducatman was doubtful if the level of either would be above environmental thresholds. He wondered how many parents would be content with children getting below threshold exposures and whether that meant it was a safe place to go to school.

Ducatman advised a formal health assessment, which could be done by West Virginia University or Marshall University in conjunction with the Bureau of Public Health. Diesel components, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides and school particulates could be measured, said Ducatman.

Breathing tests would be a good idea, but children’s ages would have to be kept in mind. Inflammatory markers in the blood could also be examined, but a comparison group would be needed, he said.

“It is much easier to fix things like this before they happen,” Ducatman said.

Officials say school is safe

Air quality tests conducted last August at Marsh Fork Elementary tested for humidity, temperature, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and comfort levels, said Bill Elswick, the state education facilities supervisor. These tests are conducted at every school, he noted. Humidity rates were high, but resolvable with the normal operation of HVAC units once school began.

“From our tests, there’s no reason why kids shouldn’t be attending that school. If we find any reason to the contrary, we’ll address it immediately,” said Elswick.

State School Superintendent Steve Paine feels the Marsh Fork Elementary situation is a matter for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and the federal Environmental Protection Agency to determine what additional tests need to be done. School officials don’t have the expertise to determine if there are serious issues at Marsh Fork, he said.

They’ve seen no indications yet that the school needs to be closed, Paine said. He, Elswick and Raleigh County School Superintendent Dr Charlotte Hutchens are waiting for the final EPA report and for advice about further testing.

Wiley won’t quit

Ed Wiley won’t quit until they get a new school built above the coal mining operations. Their Pennies of Promise campaign has raised over $3,600 so far toward a new school.

Wiley said that four teachers and three children at the school have died of cancer. There’s also a child on a breathing machine and a lot of kids sick with respiratory problems, severe headaches and other complaints, he said.

Wiley urged people to call or write Governor Joe Manchin, Senator Robert Byrd and Senator Jay Rockefeller, to give donations or hold fundraisers for a new Marsh Fork elementary school and to get involved.

“Stand up. This could happen in your backyard. If we fail to take care of our children, we have failed as Americans,” said Wiley.

Wiley and the crew were thrilled with the support they received in Morgan County. Events were organized in Paw Paw, Largent, Great Cacapon and Berkeley Springs during Wiley’s walk here. Around 40 people attended Wiley’s presentation at The Red Guitar on Sunday, August 27.

Local follow-up meeting

A follow-up meeting about Marsh Fork Elementary and the surrounding mining issues is planned for Sunday, September 24 at 4 p.m. at The Red Guitar.

Ed Wiley walks to save children

Ed Wiley walks to save children


WASHINGTON, Sept. 18 (UPI) — Former coal miner Ed Wiley ended his 455-mile walk from West Virginia to Washington with a plea for better legislation to protect children in coal-mining areas.

“My concern is the children,” he said last Wednesday during a news conference on Capitol Hill where he ended his walk.

Wiley is campaigning to save the lungs and lives of approximately 220 schoolchildren in the Coal River Valley, in the Appalachian Mountains, who are being made ill by mountaintop removal coal mining. The practice, which is rife in West Virginia, has been criticized by many environmentalists.

The children at Marsh Fork Elementary School, in sundial, W.Va., aged four to 11, take their classes 150 feet away from a coal preparation plant, and 400 feet below a coal-sludge dam holding back 2.8 billion gallons of toxic waste, according to a news release from Wiley.

A Mine Safety and Health Administration report, released under the Freedom of Information Act, has shown this dam to be leaking.

“This thing will break,” Wiley said of the dam.

If it did break, the children would have approximately 17 seconds to live, Wiley’s Indy media Web site said.

An independent study published by Dewey Sanderson, professor of geology at West Virginia’s Marshall University, determined that coal dust was present in all the air samples he collected from the elementary school.

“I ran my fingers along the wall at the last hearing that was at the school, about a month ago,” said Hillary Hosta, a campaigner with West Virginia’s Coal River Mountain Watch. “And they turned black with dust.”

There has been a campaign to move the school to a safer location since May 24, 2005, when two Coal River Valley residents were arrested while attempting to deliver their list of demands to the superintendent of the coal processing plant. According to the Coal River Mountain Watch, the group’s campaign has been “systematically ignored by every government agency approached.”

There is, however, a wider issue beyond simply this school, as many of Wiley’s supporters are anxious to point out. Hosta explained to United Press International that “the school is essentially a microcosmic example of a larger swath of problems that are happening all throughout Appalachia that are inflicted by coal companies onto communities.”

According to the Energy Information Administration, the U.S. Energy Department’s data arm, in 2005 West Virginia produced 153.7 million short tons of coal, more than any other state. Coal production also creates nearly 19,000 jobs in the state. Coal is vital to West Virginia’s economy and to America as a whole, and so it is impossible to see coal production as simply a curse.

Mountaintop removal coal mining is a relatively new practice. It can destroy up to 1,000 feet of rock to reach the veins of coal underneath and can cause leaking toxic waste and damaging coal dust. Coal must be cleaned and washed with chemicals before it goes to market, to draw out the mercury, arsenic, and lead. This process leaves behind a poisonous sludge that builds up in nearby lakes, such as the one looming 400 feet above Marsh Fork Elementary.

There are 155 of these “Sludge Camps” in West Virginia. There are also nearly 400 permits to inject that sludge into underground mines, which have been known to contaminate wells.

Under the Clean Water Act (1977), the Environmental Protection Agency has the power to regulate against the contaminating of the water supply, but it has not to date brought any action against the Goals Coal plant above Marsh Fork Elementary School. Local officials affirm that the air in the school meets safety standards and say the dam is safe. But locals are not convinced.

Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., speaking at the Capitol Hill news conference, called it “preposterous” that the EPA allows the situation with Marsh Fork Elementary to continue.

If it were allowed under the Clean Water Act, Pallone said, then the Clean Water Act must be changed. He instead supported the more stringent Clean Water Protection Act. Republicans, he said, “really haven’t done anything but tear down environmental laws.”

Prior to the news conference, Wiley met with Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., to talk about Marsh Fork Elementary school. He said Byrd “had tears in his eyes,” and had promised to “leave no stones unturned.”

While there was still clearly hard work ahead, Wiley’s walk will put pressure on the local government to help raise the money to build a new school for the children away from the coal mine.

Appalachian activist Debbie Jarrell said: “Even though the area we live in is called ‘The Coal Fields,’ there is more to where we are at than coal. We have a community there, we have a family there, we have our hopes and our dreams and our visions just like any other people have. We are not just coal fields.”