I think it's important for the people in the coalfields to know that they're not alone in their struggle to protect themselves from the dangers presented by coal waste impoundments, the dangers of runoff and flooding from mountain top removal operations, the dangers from timbering associated with mountain top removal operations. - Jack Spadaro
Imagine you wake up to get a glass of water, turn on the tap and the water runs black. Imagine the smell of it almost knocking you over. Imagine it corroding everything in your home. Imagine it killing your friends and family.
In Prenter Hollow, a small series of mountain mining communities nestled in the Laurel Creek watershed in Boone County, West Virginia, this is the reality. At over 33 million tons in 2007 alone, Boone County is the largest producer of coal in West Virginia and the fourth largest coal-producing county in the country. Prenter was founded as a mining community and is a former “coal camp”. The area is riddled with mountaintop removal mines and valley fills, preparation plants and deep mines, new and old. Today, nearly 30% of the Laurel Creek watershed is currently permitted to be mined, threatening the water quality and health of all those in the Hollow.
Like many rural West Virginians, the people of Prenter have always relied on wells and the purity of the groundwater for all of their water. Today, however, they can rely on the natural waters no longer. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a mining company injected millions of gallons of coal slurry, a toxic byproduct of coal processing, into abandoned underground mines at the head of Prenter. Many residents suspect that this coal slurry has now migrated into the groundwater and their wells. Regardless of the cause, the water is now laden with toxic heavy metals and other contaminants. The Prenter Community Center, housing the local Head Start, has had its water completely condemned by the Boone County Health Department.
Unsurprisingly, the health problems in this community are also massive: from kidney and liver failure to Parkinson's-like neurological problems, common respiratory illnesses that last for years despite treatment, and many different cancers. On a single 300-yard stretch of road, five people were diagnosed with brain tumors and nearly every family has someone in and out of the hospital.
But the residents of Prenter are not taking this lying down. Partnering with local environmental organizations, they have fought for a municipal water line, educated their friends and neighbors, and started an emergency water delivery service to bring clean, safe water to their community until a permanent water line is laid. Despite everything, these West Virginians stand strong. Come learn their story!