Commonly used MCHM and PPH should not be mysterious chemicals. When authorities argue about its health effects, people in coal producing counties already know. After coal is washed, the contaminated slurry containing used chemicals have been held in ponds that overflow, as occurred with Massey's 300-million gallon spill in Martin County, Ky., that ruined lives and a community .
In the lawsuit and settlement involving Rawl Sales in Mingo County and the case with people near Seth and Prenter in Boone County, the fluids were injected into old mine workings and eventually into the water wells of families. In legal depositions pertaining to Rawl Sales, late WVU Tech professor Dr. Erkan Esmer, who was the engineering consultant, testified that Massey's CEO Don Blankenship rejected the expenditures of $55,000 for an impoundment in favor of less costly slurry injection.
According to the New York Times article "Toxic Water," coal companies injected more than 1.9 billion gallons of contaminated coal slurry into the ground within a five-year period with millions more held in numerous unlined impoundments held back by rocks and dirt. The article noted that reports submitted to the WVDEP revealed that 93 percent of the total waste had "illegal concentrations of chemicals including arsenic, lead, chromium, beryllium, and nickel."
In Boone County, health problems with cancer, gallbladder, kidney, teeth and thyroid have jumped. Furthermore, as was confirmed with residents at EPA's super-fund PCB site in the Fayette County community of Minden, the presence of certain contaminants in the human body could have a long-term latent impact on health and life.
While the current focus relates to coal, there is another looming issue caused by the injection of countless millions of gallons of chemically contaminated proprietary fluids that are a by-product of the natural gas fracking process. Unmarked tankers are regularly transporting loads of these fluids and injecting them in old mine workings in Fayette County as well as dumping them in rural areas such as Camp Creek and along U.S. 60 between Parkersburg and Clarksburg.
The potential impact of this practice on the water table and water wells that access the aquifers is massive and have likely contributed to the rash of earthquakes in Texas, Ohio and Braxton County that can alter rock formations and the aquifer locations.
West Virginia is blessed with an essential resource that everyone around us will soon need and want.
Unlike coal, the waters of this state are publicly owned and thus must be prudently managed for quality. Furthermore, wise use of water resources can generate public revenue to benefit citizens of West Virginia through a public Future Fund savings trust that supports state services and gives income dividends to residents, as Alaska's model Permanent Fund does.
West Virginia is blessed with dedicated, hardworking, and friendly people. Residents deserve to live a full and healthy life that is not cut short a full decade by profiteers, opportunists and scoundrels.
West Virginia is also blessed with valuable natural resources, and coal is certainly an asset. However, we cannot afford to squander the opportunity to focus on water as we realize that coal, with climate change pressing for renewable and clean energy, is likely not the same fuel of the future as in the past and not the only engine to sustain West Virginia's economy over time.
A retired economics professor and director of the Southern Appalachian Labor School, is a Gazette contributing columnist.