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The Blob

Photos of Tug Fork

It may look like a muddy, flooded stream (left), but it isn't. On October 11, 2000, the residents of Kermit, West Virginia, watched as their yards, streets, and rivers filled with thick, black coal sludge. Upstream, 250 million gallons of coal waste had burst from a slurry pit into an underground mine, and then exploded out into the valley below.

One of the Southeast's worst ecological disasters ever, the spill has cost more than $40 million to clean up -- and the work is far from over. Massey Energy, whose subsidiary owned the poorly maintained pit, has called the disaster an "act of God." But USGS maps show that the solid rock barrier between the sludge and the mine was at most 18 feet, not the 70 feet Massey claimed. A year later, this stretch of the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River appears normal. What cannot be seen are the heavy metals that have been left behind -- or the long list of Massey's prior blackwater spills and environmental violations.

OnEarth. Winter 2002
Copyright 2001 by the Natural Resources Defense Council