79 Heather Doyle

Activists paddled a boat across the massive Shumate coal slurry impoundment in Raleigh County, in an attempt to draw attention to state inaction on the controversial and deadly 2.8 billion-gallon toxic cesspool that hovers precariously in the West Virginia mountains.

As part of a series of protests coordinated by the courageous Ramps Campaign, the two women held banners addressed to West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, “Slurry Poisons Appalachia” and “Gov. Tomblin, Put Health Over Profit.” Another Ramps activist has reportedly locked himself to a barrel of black water in front of Gov. Tomblin’s mansion.

“I’m participating in this action in solidarity with the Appalachian people who live every day slowly being poisoned by their own drinking water,” Pipestem, West Virginia-native Heather Doyle said in a released statement.

A federal study on slurry impoundments in West Virginia, released this spring, found that most earthen-walled impoundments failed to meet certain standards.

Earlier this summer, a broad range of citizens groups filed a formal petition for a federal takeover of the state regulatory program, citing “systemic failures to properly assess the risks of flooding from mine sites, drastic understaffing, and failure to assess meaningful penalties for violations of the law.”

In November, a coal miner died at a Harrison County coal slurry impoundment. His body wasn’t found for a week. In neighboring eastern Kentucky, the bottom walls of a coal slurry impoundment broke 13 years ago, releasing over 300 million gallons of toxic coal slurry into the Tug Fork River in Martin County.

Coal slurry impoundments abound in the West Virginia mountains–and in all coal mining communities, such as Illinois–including the nearby class “C” Brushy Fork impoundment, one of the largest impoundments in the nation. According to past mining records, down-slope residents below Brushy Fork would have less than 15 minutes to escape a 72-foot tidal wave of coal slurry, if a significant break occurred.

“I grew up in Eunice drinking water poisoned by coal slurry, went to Marsh Fork Elementary under that dam, breathed the dust from that prep plant, and I’ve suffered the lifelong health consequences of that,” said Junior Walk of Rock Creek, at today’s protest. “These same abuses are taking place today across our great state, and the blame for that lies squarely at the feet of Gov. Tomblin.”

“Our politicians and regulators say that it’s safe to dump slurry in our communities, but they don’t want it on their doorstep. Gov. Tomblin could order to coal industry to install filter presses that would eliminate slurry while creating jobs for less than a dollar a ton,” said Chuck Nelson, a retired UWMA coal miner from nearly Glen Daniel. “That’s the way it also goes. Our Governor puts the interests of the coal industry above the health of our communities.”