A toxic crisis in America’s coal country
In the shadow of some of America’s most controversial coal mines, where companies use huge amounts of explosives to blow the tops off mountains, isolated communities say their water has been poisoned.
The taps in her house have been worn down, her washing machine frequently stops working, and her bathroom and kitchen have been stained a deep, bloody orange by the pollutants – iron, sulphur, even arsenic – that have seeped into her home’s water supply.
"This is what we have to live with," Casey says.
"I’ve been here all my life, but when the surface [coal] mine came in that’s when the water started changing," says Jack, who, despite being a miner himself, believes the industry is accountable for his family’s water problems.
This process is a type of surface mining known as mountaintop removal, and has drawn the ire not only of nearby residents but environmental groups who say it devastates the landscape and pollutes the waterways.
‘Don’t take away our healthcare’ says Trump country "When you dump a lot of overburden into the valley, and start covering up streams, you have water sources that end up travelling through the [waste] material,’ says Professor Michael McCawley, an environmental engineer who has spent time researching the health impacts of mountaintop removal.
Jason now cooks with bottled water, but he has been collecting water from a nearby stream and treating it with swimming pool chemicals to supply his house.
"We view ourselves as pretty good neighbours and if somebody has an issue then we would address it," said the spokesman for CM Energy, which took over the mine in 2017.
When presented with the complaints of nearby residents, the spokesman declined to take responsibility and said the water contamination could have been caused by a number of different issues.
"If you don’t work in the coal mines you either flip burgers or you have to move out of state and do something else."