A Ray of Sunshine In The Heart of Appalachia


Forty-two years ago, a federal law called the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) was passed, and it was designed to make sure that every American citizen had access to safe clean drinking water. Today in West Virginia, that’s simply not true anymore. Most people who live there and in surrounding states are scared to drink the water for fear that something deadly is in it.

Some recent reality checks have included: The Flint River Water Crisis, Flint MI; the Elk River Chemical Spill near Charleston, WV; the Kingston Fossil Plant Coal Ash Spill in TN; and unfortunately, Florida has recently joined the club with radioactive waste spilling into Biscayne Bay.

A lot of this pollution can be attributed to the so-called Halliburton Loophole that has allowed the oil and gas mining industries to pollute seemingly without repercussion. The local and state governments and regulators that should have policed these situations were passive, if not contributory in some instances.

These states are now in peril from the recent bankruptcies of coal corporations. The bankruptcies create uncertainty as to whether these companies will be able to walk away from the obligation created by The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act to remediate the land after they end their mining operations.

These sites are barren, scalped of vegetation and have unlined coal slurry ponds with poisonous substances that filter down into fragile aquifers. According to multiple studies by various agencies, most groundwater in West Virginia has dangerous amounts of iron, manganese, lead, sulfuric acid, aluminum, arsenic and radon, related to mining. More recently, the mystery chemicals from the process of fracking and the wastewater produced from it have caused even greater risk to the public.

The one ray of sunshine is a growing movement by people who live in these communities who are standing up for a better future for not only the people living in West Virginia but around the nation.

People and Organizations like:

The West Virginia Rivers Coalition

Evan Hansen CEO of Downstream Technologies, who is running for office as a Delegate for Monongahela County.

Lori Magana, The Cookie Lobbyist and her fellow “Water Warriors”, Paul Dalzell and Linda Sodaro

Advocates for a Safe Water System

Our Water, Public Water for the public good

West Virginia Citizen Action Group

Friends of Blair Mountain

Friends of Water

Coal River Mountain Watch (“CRMW”)

Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

Appalachian Voice

United Mountain Defense

Please find a larger list here.

These people and their organizations have carved out time, money and passion looking for positive solutions to solve these monumental problems.

The following is a partial list of their efforts to reclaim their home.

  • Some organizations lobby the state and federal government, trying every session to get or keep legislation that will protect water and the rest of the environment from the pollution and scorched earth policies that have taken such a deep toll.
  • Some are acting as monitors, checking the water and the land to shine a light on bad actors like Freedom Industries, and at times the state governments and regulators.
  • Some actively protest at the capital, out in the streets, online and anywhere else they can get the message out.
  • Some are holding the private corporations charged with providing clean water accountable for putting corporate profits ahead of the public good.
  • Some look at the geoscience and chemistry for solutions.
  • Others are trying to balance the economy with the preservation of precious resources.

All of these organizations understand that in order to have safe water and a healthy environment the pollution has to stop. Any long-term remediation efforts are worthless until the polluters stop polluting and the population is educated to understand why and how to make that happen.

There will be a period of upset as fingers are pointed, lawsuits like Ely v Cabot Oil with jury awards in the millions, and long time practices are forced to change.

But there are also many possible solutions to take in the short run like:

  • Double-hulled construction of storage tanks and transport rail tanks and pipelines
  • Vigilant oversight by regulatory agencies
  • Nontoxic vegetation management
  • Protection of critical water sources by local, state, and federal governments
  • Updated, state of the art, water treatment plants
  • Filtration devices provided by the government where filtered water is safe enough to drink. Fresh water should be delivered when it isn’t possible to make it safe.
  • Just compensation should be made to those who’ve lost homes and or home values because of pollution

Some long-term solutions will likely involve:

  • The EPA will need to declare these sites covered by the Superfund or Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA) and Congress will need to reinstate the collection of fees from these mining and chemical industries to fund the clean up.
  • Renewable power sources, perhaps utilizing those barren hills for wind farms.
  • Use low-growing vegetation to clean up polluted soil by a process called phytoremediation
  • Revised and improved environment laws at local, state and federal levels
  • Education about sustainability for children and adults
  • Renewed and better funding for the state’s environmental and health departments

It’s going to be a long hard road but, the good people who call Appalachia and surrounding areas home are ready to move toward a better, cleaner future.



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