The coal industry has had a significant impact on the lives, families, and communities of West Virginia. Working in the coal mines is routine and commonplace for residents, so when disaster strikes, all are deeply affected. From the 2010 Big Branch Explosion to the 2014 Elk River chemical disaster, West Virginian's know that mining accidents can strike at any time.
What does the Elk River chemical spill mean for the coal industry?
On January 9, 2014, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection received numerous complaints concerning something in the air that was affecting the local community. A few hours later, it was determined that the Freedom Industries Charleston Plant on the Elk River was leaking 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM), a chemical used to purify coal before it is burned. The leak was in a tank that had not been inspected since 1991, and 10,000 gallons of MCHM had leaked into the Elk River and into the water treatment plant.
This emergency left 300,000 people, one-sixth of the state's total population, without water for drinking, cooking, or bathing. Bottled water sold out in nearby stores due to the high demand. Emergency rooms across the state were stuffed with people suffering from diarrhea, headaches, nausea, itching, vomiting, rashes, and stomach pain. These are not the only injuries that have been reported due to coal mines and local contaminations. According to an article recently published in The Atlantic, the safety concerns and health regulations ignored by coal companies are wider-reaching than these already serious incidents.
Research shows that residents in these areas suffered from increased:
- Kidney disease
- Obstructive lung disease
- High blood pressure
- Birth defects
- Total poverty
- Child poverty
While some may say that these concerns cannot be linked to mining, a study published in October 2014 shows that coal dust is carcinogenic. Further, this dust contributes to water, air, and soil pollution.
What actions are being taken to combat this?
As a result of the Elk River contamination, six employees of Freedom Industries were indicted for not meeting a reasonable standard of care in the management of their company. This mirrors the charges brought against Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship for his role in violating numerous safety regulations in the Big Branch Explosion. Attorney Sean P. McGinley of DiTrapano Barrett DiPiero McGinley & Simmons, PLLC is one of the attorneys who is fighting against Blankenship to restore the health and safety of the area. However, both the Elk River and Big Branch incidents are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to coal miner safety in West Virginia. It should not take accidents that threaten the life of residents for these companies to be held accountable for breaking the law and putting their workers at risk.
If you or a loved one have been injured or become sick as a result of working in the coal mines, you deserve to hold companies liable for your injuries. Contact DiTrapano Barrett DiPiero McGinley & Simmons, PLLC for a free case evaluation to determine if legal action can be taken on your behalf.