We, as Americans, tend to take water for granted. When we turn on the tap we simply expect that it is clean enough for washing, bathing and drinking. Even though some may prefer to drink filtered or bottled water, my guess is that most people generally don't think twice about the quantity, quality and especially the safety of their local water supply.
Unfortunately, that's not the case if you happen to live in West Virginia's coal country, ground zero for the most extreme form of strip mining -- mountaintop removal.
In my travels to Appalachia I've met many folks whose health has been adversely affected by reckless mining that is ravaging their communities, but to me the most shocking threat they face is poisoned water.
Now come reports from a town I've visited -- Prenter Hollow in Boone County -- that local residents have well water which is not fit for human consumption because it is "too toxic to touch." This community of about 300 homes is now trying raise money so they can get barrels of clean water delivered.
As reported in the Charleston Gazette, the contaminated water has caused widespread health problems, including high rates of gallbladder and kidney disease. People also suffer from unexplained urinary tract infections and tooth decay. Indeed, residents blame the toxic well water for dissolving children's teeth. "There's a 5-year-old with a full set of dentures," local nurse Pam Johnson told the Gazette. Most shocking of all, a health survey conducted by Johnson found that 98% of adults interviewed in the area have gallbladder disease.
Stop and think about that. Can you believe this is happening here in this country? More to the point, how can any of us stand by and let this happen to our fellow Americans?
Although the coal companies deny it, most folks in Prenter believe coal slurry injections from abandoned mines contaminated the groundwater -- beginning back in 2003. They say blasting at nearby mountaintop mines have made the problem worse.
Apparently, local health authorities have applied for a state grant to build a water line to Prenter but that project would take more than a year. Meantime, residents either have to go without a stable supply of available, affordable water or continue risking their health with well water poisoned with heavy metals.
The immediate need the people of Prenter have is money to help pay for the delivery of 55-gallon barrels of fresh water to their homes twice a month for a year. Please consider making a tax-deductible online donation to the Prenter Water Fund or send a check to: Prenter Water Fund, c/o Coal River Mountain Watch, P.O. Box 651, Whitesville, WV 25209.
The over-arching need, of course, is to put a stop to mountaintop mining that is destroying not just the Appalachians but also the lives of the people who call this region home.