Group vows not to back down until kids are safe
A citizens’ group and concerned parents of the children at Marsh Fork Elementary School in the Coal River Valley of West Virginia expressed disappointment in Governor Joe Manchin’s decision to drop his investigation of health concerns at the school. The school has gained attention over the summer as residents protested Massey Energy’s coal operations next door.
Since May of this year, local residents and parents of the children at Marsh Fork have expressed particular concern over air quality, drinking water quality, and risk of exposure to toxic chemicals in and around the school. According to documentation from the Department of Education, no test for coal dust or other hazardous airborne materials have been conducted. It also appears that no water quality or soil toxicity tests have been conducted on the school grounds. To date no new health survey of children who attend the school or residents of the surrounding community has been initiated.
“Carte Goodwin, on behalf of the Governor, insists that the indoor air quality at the school was tested and meets all applicable regulations, yet there are no applicable indoor air quality regulations,” said Bo Webb of Coal River Mountain Watch “Mr. Goodwin also states that an indoor air quality test was conducted, but from what we can tell no test for coal dust or hazardous chemicals has been done. If you’re not testing for coal dust or other hazardous airborne chemicals in the air then you definitely won’t find them. Until that test has been conducted, we cannot know if the children or the surrounding community are safe,” continued Webb.
“The Governor told me he cared about these children,” said Ed Wiley, whose granddaughter attends the school. “Now the Department of Education won’t test for coal dust or chemicals, and the Department of Health and Human Services refused to conduct a health survey. Why would the Governor do us so wrong?” Wiley launched a sit-in protest at the Capitol on July 5, prompting the investigation.
According to the Center for Disease Control, children represent the largest subgroup of the population susceptible to the effects of air pollution. Coal River Mountain Watch, concerned about the school’s proximity to a potential fugitive dust problem, is calling for a more detailed and thorough testing program.
“We don’t take issue with the test results,” said Vernon Haltom of CRMW. “We take issue with the fact that nothing of significant concern was tested for. If the governor lacks the courage to look for a problem, he won’t find one.”
The group says the struggle to ensure the health and safety of the children of Marsh Fork Elementary and the surrounding community is far from over.
“We will not back down on this issue; we will not turn our backs on those children. We hope the Governor will do the right thing and implement an actual investigation, testing the air for coal dust and hazardous materials, testing the toxicity levels of both the soil on the school grounds and the water provided for children to drink, before closing the door on the children’s health and future” said Hillary Hosta and organizer with the Coalfield Sustainability Project.
Background: Marsh Fork Elementary School
Marsh Fork Elementary School is in the Coal River Valley of West Virginia. A short distance behind and slightly up river of the school a Massey Energy subsidiary known as Goals Coal owns and operates a coal processing plant, to strip mines and a massive toxic waste storage facility which consists of an earthen dam holding back 2.8 billion gallons of sludge (waste water runoff from “cleaning” coal). Looking up river from the school you’ll see a coal silo ominously looming over the school grounds what is less noticeable and yet equally concerning is the sludge dam just 400 yards up river. These things have weighed heavy on Coal River Valley residents and this summer they began to speak out. Below is the time lime of their progress.
May 24th: Two Coal River Valley residents, including a Goldman Prize winning Grandmother, arrested while attempting to deliver a list of demands to the superintendent of Massey Energy subsidiary, Goals Coal, during a rally at the gates of the Goals processing plant.
May 26th: Over fifty people spoke out against the permit for the Second Silo planned for the Goals Coal Processing plant at a DEP hearing. None spoke in favor.
May 31st: Sixteen people, five residents and eleven Mountain Justice Summer volunteers, arrested attempting to deliver demands during a second rally at the Goals Coal site.
June 22nd: Members of citizen group Coal River Mountain Watch meet with Gov. Joe Manchin, and other state officials to present their concerns and evidence to back them up. The Governor promised to put together a team to investigate.
June 29th: Two West Virginia residents, including a father of a student at Marsh Fork, arrested trying to deliver a list of demands to Don Blankenship at Massey Energy Headquarters in Richmond, VA.
June 30th: DEP approved permit for second coal loading silo at Goals Coal Plant.
July 5th: Ed Wiley, whose granddaughter attends Marsh Fork Elementary School, stages a sit-in on the steps of the Capitol Building in Charleston. After five hours the Governor agreed to meet with Wiley and in a press conference following their meeting, the Governor scheduled a tour of the school and another meeting with concerned citizens
July 6th: State and Raleigh County School Boards, along with General Council to the Governor, Carte Goodwin, tour Marsh Fork Elementary School and a possible site for new school.
July 7th: Representatives of the Governor and heads of several state agencies meet with members of Coal River Mountain Watch. The Governor’s assistants repeatedly expressed the Governor’s concern for the children and promised a multi-agency investigation regarding the silo.
July 8th: Over 300 people fill the streets of Richmond, VA protesting Massey Energy at their corporate headquarters
July 15th: DEP suspends the permit for the second coal silo due to boundary discrepancies on the permit submitted by Massey Energy. It appeared that Massey had shifted the permit boundary and the neither of the coal silos were entirely within the originally permitted area.
July 19th – 21st: Coal River Valley Residents and Mountain Justice Summer hold a three day march through the Valley.
July 26th: DEP orders foundation for second coal silo to be destroyed.
July 31st: Over 300 people attend rally against mountaintop removal in Charleston, WV.
August 5th: DEP delays order to destroy silo pending Massey’s appeal.
August 26th: Students return to Marsh Fork Elementary school without receiving confirmation that it is safe.