Massey Energy, the Virginia mining company, has settled a seven-year-old lawsuit with hundreds of southern West Virginia residents who claim the company poisoned their drinking water supplies with coal slurry. The amount of the settlement, which was supposed to be confidential, according to media reports was $35 million. Circuit Judge Alan Moats, who serves on the state’s Mass Litigation Panel, along with Judge Derek Swope, worked with the lawyers to reach an agreement. The parties were subject to a gag order imposed by the court. The financial terms of the settlement were required to be confidential and were not to be disclosed by the parties or their lawyers. The trial judge is concerned over this issue. Alpha Natural Resources was involved in the case since it bought Massey for $7.1 billion in June.
Some 700 people had sued Massey and its Rawl Sales & Processing subsidiary, claiming the companies contaminated their aquifer and wells by pumping 1.4 billion gallons of toxic coal slurry into worked-out underground mines between 1978 and 1987. Slurry is created when coal is washed to help it burn more cleanly. The residents say it seeped out of the old mine workings and into their aquifer, turning their well water varying shades of red, brown and black, and causing ailments ranging from learning disabilities to cancer.
For decades, coal companies in Appalachia have injected slurry into worked-out mines as a cheap alternative to dams and other systems that can safely store or treat it. The industry claims underground injection is safe, but critics say slurry leaches into water tables through natural and man-made cracks in the earth. The state Department of Environmental Protection has imposed a temporary ban on new injection sites. Last year, a team of West Virginia University researchers advised lawmakers to start monitoring coal slurry, even though they could not conclusively demonstrate a hazard to public health.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has long allowed states to use old mines as “backfill wells” for waste, documenting some 5,000 of them in 17 states when it last counted in 1999. But the EPA said that includes sites used to store sludge, ash, sand, cement and other materials, and it cannot identify wells by subcategories. That means it’s impossible to know how many of the sites contain coal slurry. The Plaintiffs are now mostly served by a public water system, but they contend that chronic exposure to metals and chemicals are to blame for birth defects and other health problems.
Source: Insurance Journal
Contact us today for a free legal consultation with an experienced attorney.
Fields marked *may be required for submission.
If you would like to subscribe to the Jere Beasley Report digital edition, simply visit our Subscriptions page and provide the necessary information or call us at 800-898-2034.
Attorney Advertising - Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.