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Prenter studies prove pollution, residents say

Read the reports: http://blogs.wvgazette.com/coaltattoo/CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Residents from the Prenter area of Boone County held a press conference at the state Capitol on Tuesday to release two reports they say prove coal-slurry has contaminated their community's drinking water.

The reports were prepared by expert witnesses hired by lawyers for hundreds of area residents who are suing mining companies over the pollution.

Jennifer Hall-Massey, one of the residents, told reporters she has watched her neighbors get sick and die -- a trend she and other residents blame on high levels of various contaminants in their water.

"There should no longer be any doubt that the practice of slurry injection can and has destroyed the health of West Virginians," said a flier distributed at the Capitol by the Sludge Safety Project, the group that organized the press conference.

Slurry is the wastewater created at preparation plants by the cleaning of raw coal before shipping the fuel to market. For decades, coal operators dumped the material in large above-ground impoundments or injected it underground, often into old mine voids.

The residents argue in their lawsuit that decades of surface and underground mining near Prenter and Seth fractured these underground voids, allowing slurry to reach water supplies. Their lawsuit seeks compensation and punitive damages, along with a medical monitoring program.

Portions of the area are now served by public water lines and do not have to rely on wells for drinking water.

Rev. Jim Lewis, a longtime Charleston activist, spoke at the press conference and noted that many residents from the Mingo County community of Rawl -- where a similar lawsuit recently settled -- felt they couldn't attend the press conference because of a "gag order" that prevents parties from discussing that case.

The order, issued by a panel of judges overseeing the case, could prevent Rawl residents from sharing their experience with lawmakers who are likely to consider tougher rules on slurry disposal during this year's legislative session.

A previous study by the state Department of Environmental Protection did not find a connection between slurry disposal and contaminated wells, but a companion review by West Virginia University researchers said the DEP had required inadequate monitoring over the years to allow any conclusions.

Coal companies have denied responsibility for the problem.

Citing a series of West Virginia University studies, citizen groups are increasingly arguing that living near mountaintop removal mining sites puts coalfield residents at increased risks of illnesses, including cancer and birth defects.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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