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September 14, 2009

Coal stories…

“How can we get digital cable and Internet in our homes, but not clean water?”

This was a quote from the mother of a child who was severely effected by the polluted water from a coal slurry. The quote appeared in a NY Times article that can be accessed here. It is easy to miss the innocence of individuals who use technology. Most people are often unable to see that the very lifestyle they want demands the large-scale environmental plunder and pollution (Note, I said lifestyle they want not lifestyle they need). The 400-channel cable network that they so much enjoy, the internet, the 5-star safety rated sedan, and the 4 bedroom “modern” home, all have their parts to play in the pollution game.

Coal slurry is a by-product of mining; coal is apparently not very clean and has to be washed before it can be used. The slurry that comes out of washing is composed of several chemicals, some that are used in the washing process and some that come out from the coal ore. A list of these chemicals can be found here. Many of these chemicals are quite dangerous. Slurry is a regular by-product of several mines; even Uranium mining results in slurry. Imagine the water coming out of your washing machine; it obviously is not palatable. Now consider that you are washing coal, and the water would be much worse. Now, imagine washing radioactive Uranium and similar minerals that power the nuclear energy, and the nuclear defense world. The waste generated while cleaning minerals is hazardous to say the least.

Several mining firms do try to implement controls to contain and re-process these wastes. And we cannot really take chemicals out of our life; the paint on your wall is a chemical, the air that you breathe is a chemical. The problem starts when these mines are used beyond their design limits, and larger than acceptable concentrations of dangerous chemicals are created at a single location.

A reason why most people do not appreciate mining as problematic could be because a majority of their lives are far from mines and the consequent ill-effects. Invariably, they see the benefits of using coal (steam engines, thermal power plants), Uranium (Power plants, nuclear bombs) but do see the true cost of these comforts. Worse still, some users would not even want to see the true price others have to pay, and also do not want to use these resources in moderation.

More such articles on coal, and its complications:

The above spill happened on 10-11-2000; Quotes from the above:

Local people remember the boom years fondly. Anyone who wanted could get a job, and unemployment went from 25 percent to 3 or 4 percent, they say. “First a guy would get a job at the mine, and after that he’d get himself a trailer, a four-wheel drive, and a color TV. After that he’d get either a boat or a wife,” a county resident recalled. Intense gratitude toward the coal companies may be found in the county to this day.


On the scale of spills, it was about thirty times the size of the 10 million gallons from the wreck of the Exxon Valdez. Aside from good local reporting, especially by Ken Ward Jr. in the Charleston (W. V.) Gazette, coverage of the spill had been sparse. Trying to make sense of it from a distance, I wondered mainly about the place: What could it possibly look like after suffering a wastewater-and-coal-slurry spill of 300 million gallons?

At a hearing in March 2001, a resident told Art Smith, the EPA official in charge of monitoring the cleanup, that backhoe operators were merely turning over the earth and burying the sludge underneath.

Greg Preece said that many of those affected by the spill were burned out on talking about it.

(Excerpt from an interesting interview from the above article)

N.: “An independent test had said that there were six heavy metals, including cadmium and arsenic, in the drinking water, and finally the EPA said, ‘We’ll check into it.’ And we still don’t know if our water’s safe or not.”

M.: “An EPA lawyer at that meeting told everybody, ‘Listen, people, coal mining is a dirty business, and you-all better get used to it.'”

N.: “People around here hear you criticizing the coal companies, and they start moaning, ‘But what’ll we do if the mines shut down? What’ll happen to those jobs?’ I sympathize to a certain extent, but I also tell them, ‘Lots of places in America don’t have coal, and don’t have coal companies, and they manage to support themselves OK.'”

M.: “‘Jobs’ is a sacred word. It’s a word like ‘shareholders.’ To some people, I’m the turd in the punchbowl because they think I don’t believe in jobs.”

N.: “And how good a job is it, anyway, if you have to risk the lives of the same people you employ?”

M.: “If people are all scared about jobs, that gives the coal company more power and makes it seem more important than it is already. That’s what happened with this cleanup — the coal company announced what it planned to do, and the government and everybody basically just rolled over and said, ‘OK.'”

His grandfather raised twenty-four children on the farm’s 8-plus acres. His father raised two, and Glenn raised six. The farm’s creek-valley topsoil produced fruits and vegetables that won prizes at the county fair. The soil had hardly a rock in it; but after the spill and the cleanup, the replacement dirt supplied by the coal company was all rocks and clay left over from strip mining, compressed to an impervious hardness by cleanup vehicles.

A video on coal mining in West Virginia Appalachians:

An article on Uranium mining:


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