Coal Industry Still Poisoning America's Water

Coal Industry Still Poisoning America’s Water

via New York Times

…and they’re getting away with it. Even Obama’s EPA can’t seem to get a handle on the corruption, bullying and intimidation that keeps the sludge flowing into America’s groundwater. And many people in coal mining states are paying the price with terrible health problems. It’s a sad commentary that our appetite for cheap energy is so non-negotiable that even when the good guys are in charge, money still means more than human life.

When people talk about cheap energy, what they really mean is that the think the lives of people in coal states are expendable. And they won’t pay a few more cents per kilowatt-hour for solar or wind that would end this dumping entirely. Who said humans were the smartest mammals? We can’t even figure out how to stop poisoning our own–even when it’s completely unnecessary.

Jennifer Hall-Massey knows not to drink the tap water in her home near Charleston, W.Va. In fact, her entire family tries to avoid any contact with the water. Her youngest son has scabs on his arms, legs and chest where the bathwater — polluted with lead, nickel and other heavy metals — caused painful rashes. Many of his brother’s teeth were capped to replace enamel that was eaten away.

Neighbors apply special lotions after showering because their skin burns. Tests show that their tap water contains arsenic, barium, lead, manganese and other chemicals at concentrations federal regulators say could contribute to cancer and damage the kidneys and nervous system.

"How can we get digital cable and Internet in our homes, but not clean water?" said Mrs. Hall-Massey, a senior accountant at one of the state’s largest banks.

She and her husband, Charles, do not live in some remote corner of Appalachia. Charleston, the state capital, is less than 17 miles from her home.

"How is this still happening today?" she asked.

When Mrs. Hall-Massey and 264 neighbors sued nine nearby coal companies, accusing them of putting dangerous waste into local water supplies, their lawyer did not have to look far for evidence. As required by state law, some of the companies had disclosed in reports to regulators that they were pumping into the ground illegal concentrations of chemicals — the same pollutants that flowed from residents’ taps.

But state regulators never fined or punished those companies for breaking those pollution laws.

This pattern is not limited to West Virginia. Almost four decades ago, Congress passed the Clean Water Act to force polluters to disclose the toxins they dump into waterways and to give regulators the power to fine or jail offenders. States have passed pollution statutes of their own. But in recent years, violations of the Clean Water Act have risen steadily across the nation, an extensive review of water pollution records by The New York Times found.

In the last five years alone, chemical factories, manufacturing plants and other workplaces have violated water pollution laws more than half a million times. The violations range from failing to report emissions to dumping toxins at concentrations regulators say might contribute to cancer, birth defects and other illnesses.

However, the vast majority of those polluters have escaped punishment. State officials have repeatedly ignored obvious illegal dumping, and the Environmental Protection Agency, which can prosecute polluters when states fail to act, has often declined to intervene.

Comments (2 comments)

ClintJCL / September 16th, 2009, 4:19 pm / #1

As usual.. the problem isn't that we need more laws;
it's that we need to enforce the laws that are already on the books.

ClintJCL / September 16th, 2009, 4:19 pm / #2

As usual.. the problem isn't that we need more laws;
it's that we need to enforce the laws that are already on the books.

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