One cannot discuss the chronic water pollution problems in southeastern Kentucky without understanding the negative on-going health impact of coal on the environment, communities, and individuals.
As Kentuckians we don’t anticipate when we turn on the tap in our homes that we get the rush of toxic, contaminated water that we can’t use for drinking, cooking, and bathing. Toxic and cancerous water for ourselves, our children, our parents, our families and our pets. Toxic cancerous water for our gardens, fields, and livestock.
But this is the reality for many counties in southeastern Kentucky, especially Martin County.
May 23, 1994 – Wolf Creek is besieged by an over 300 acre-feet of coal slurry refuse owned by the Massey Coal Company and their parent firm, California based Fluor Corp. Federal and state mine safety records reveal that the mining company and regulatory officials were aware that this coal refuse pond had spills with questionable safety issues and that no additional precautions were taken.
October 11, 2000 – Wolf Creek was again besieged again by an astonishing 20 million gallons of coal refuse slurry again owned by the Massey Coal Company. The spillage contained arsenic and mercury, immediate killing aquatic life in the water. Hundreds of miles of the Big Sandy River, its tributaries and the Ohio River were negatively affected.
The October 11, 2000 oil spill in Martin County was 30 times larger
than the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) chief at the time was Elaine Chao (wife of Senator Mitch McConnell).
February 2001 – The EPA ordered Massey Coal Company to clean and restore the extensive damaged areas of Martin County.
October 12 -16, 2001 – Massey County Coal Company constructed filter dams in Wolf Creek and Rockcastle Creek to limit the flow of the coal slurry.
October 25, 2001 – Water advisories are lifted after a water pipe is placed upstream.
December 17, 2001 – EPA workers are withdrawn after clean-up is no longer considered an ecological emergency.
2002 – Ongoing investigations were suspended after the election of George W. Bush.
2003 – Whistleblower, Jack Spadaro, an engineer at Massey Energy released information that the Bush administration was purposefully covering up the Martin County spill. He is placed on involuntary administrative leave after his role in the investigation of MCCC and MSHA.
2020 – A study conducted by Jason Unrine and Wayne Sanderson, both Professors at the College of Agriculture at the University of Kentucky, found that Martin County’s drinking water… “regularly exceeded U.S. Environmental Protection Agency maximum contamination levels for cancer-causing disinfection byproducts and coliform bacteria”.
Other disturbing findings…
• 47% of the water samples had “at least one contaminant that exceeded U.S. EPA regulatory guidelines.
• 10% of the water samples had above the EPA’s maximum level of haloacetic acids – chemicals that cause cancer and birth defects.
• 29% of the water samples had above the EPA’s maximum level of total trihalomethanes – they are linked to heart, lung, kidney, liver issues, central nervous system damage. bladder and colorectal cancers and reproductive defects.
• 13% of the water samples detected coliform bacteria, which can indicate that there are harmful bacteria in the water.
• Coliform bacteria in the water rose during the summer and early autumn months.
Martin County’s problems continue to expand due to antiquated water infrastructures and pipes that have frequent breaks and outages. Water is lost and toxins leak in the water supply. Martin County residents are asked to pay for these water improvements. As a result, they pay a larger percentage for water then other districts in Kentucky.
As one of the poorest counties in America…this is unforgiveable.
• 35% live under the poverty level – more than twice the national average.
• 18.1% of residents in Martin County earn less than $10,000 a year.
• High unemployment rates
• High immigration out of the county.
This is unacceptable and I will do all that it takes to bring the resources needed to address and resolve these problems. No American should have to question the health and safety of the water they and their family drink.
There has to be rules and regulations that all companies, including the coal industry must follow to do business in Kentucky. Most importantly these rules and regulations have to be enforced with serious consequences. Join me in making all industries responsible for their actions and impact on people and the environment.