12 Nov 2012
The Big Bad Wolf: A Deeper Look at the Coal Industry and Its Victims On October 11, 2000, residents of a lush and beautiful area once named Eden awoke to find their homes and property covered in a hazardous coal waste. This waste, known as coal slurry or sludge, poured into the headwaters of two major waterways in Martin County, Kentucky. All aquatic life was wiped out, and all drinking water for local residents was ruined. Several committees and reports were created to find the reason for this spill and ensure it was avoided in the future; however, these creations merely stood as reassurance that the responsible company, Massey Energy, would not face any serious repercussions. The continuous and unpunished negligence of Massey Energy caused one of the largest and most toxic waste spills in our country’s history. Martin County will never be the same beautiful Eden that it once was (Reece 124). Slurry is the solid and liquid waste by-product of coal production. Many chemicals are used to wash the mined coal in order to eliminate any unwanted material. A massive amount of waste is produced from this, and coal companies have been building toxic lakes for years to fill with the slurry. This hazardous waste, contrary to claims of the coal industry, is very harmful and contains carcinogenic chemicals as well as toxic components of coal such as arsenic, lead, and mercury (Reece 129). At a town meeting in Martin County following the spill, the Environmental Protection Agency told local residents that “there was nothing in the slurry that wasn’t on the periodic table” (Reece 129). If this statement was meant to ease the worry of the community, it was a poor attempt. The EPA’s claims are beyond ridiculous, seeing as how cancer causing elements such as uranium and radium lie on the periodic table. The slurry pond which spilled over 300 million gallons into Martin County was meant to have a sturdy barrier separating it from the hollow underground mine underneath. A recommended wall of coal amounting to 100 feet thick was reduced to around eighteen feet, and the millions of gallons of toxic waste showed its power when the flimsy wall failed. In 1994, the same incident occurred in the same slurry pond. The company was given a memorandum by the Mine Safety and Health Administration that included nine different recommendations to reinforce the impoundment. In fact, “the memorandum indicated that Martin County Coal Company should not be allowed to raise the level of the coal slurry reservoir without enacting the engineer’s recommendations” (Coal Slurry Spill Investigation Suppressed). Instead of making an attempt to comply with safety regulations, Martin County Coal continued to dump the hazardous waste into the reservoir on the very day that the spill occurred (Reece 131). No serious precautions were taken. The Martin County spill of 2000 validates the fears of local inhabitants by showing how negligent the coal industry has become. Dr. Glenna Graves states that “the society of Appalachia before industrialization was a vital and satisfying one, but one that in the context of an industrial nation was becoming untenable” (Graves). The people of Appalachia are ruled by coal, and this leaves them vulnerable and defenseless. Absolutely no remorse has been shown to the victims of the industry’s disregard. This same neglect is being shown to so many other dangerous slurry ponds across the country. It has been seen first-hand that these companies will dance around requirements and safety regulations in order to increase the size of their pockets, even if it means ruining the land allowed them to achieve wealth. Appalachia is being sucked dry. With the repetitive actions of the morally vacant coal companies, slurry ponds similar to the failed impoundment of Martin County are posing a greater threat to local inhabitants and their homes. Unless these companies and federal agencies begin to accept...
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