News Feature | December 26, 2016

West Virginians Get Coal-Colored Water Through Their Taps

Dominique 'Peak' Johnson

By Peak Johnson

Residents of a former U.S. Steel and coal mining town of fewer than 1,000 in West Virginia have been experiencing discoloration in their drinking water.

The Corsicana Daily Sun reported that issues with the water began earlier this month, when residents and water plant workers started noticing the strange water. Water plant supervisor Harry Park notified the regional health department the following day.

“The water turned black, like coal,” Mayor Thomas Vineyard told the Sun. “It’s never happened before. The water has always been good.”

Residents have been told that the water is only “acceptable for bathroom use, but not to drink or cook with it, even if it's boiled first.”

Health department officials took samples of the water, and a water treatment procedure cleared up the color, but as of this writing the safety of the water is still unknown.

“We still don’t know what turned it black or if there is anything harmful in it," Vineyard said.

Former Mayor Shirley Duncan said that the town of Gary's water comes from a well in the number three seam of an old steel mine. She added that Gary started “pumping out of the well when the mine ‘worked out,’ was emptied of valuable minerals about 40 years ago.”

According to the Sun, “a closed surface mining operation with slurry ponds — pools of liquid coal mining waste made up of coal ash, rocks, mud and water — sits on top of the mountain behind those pumps.”

“We don’t know if that is a factor,” Vineyard said. “It never has been before.”

The mining operation based in Beckley, West Virginia, has been closed for eight to nine months, Vineyard added.

According to WSAZ, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP) Division of Mining and Reclamation issued a notice of violation to a company as the result of a sediment pond leaking into a water supply.

Hendrick Gary LLC received the violation notice “because the pond may have co-mingled with the drinking water supply for the city of Gary in McDowell County.”

The DEP has issued an order requiring the coal operator to supply drinking water to the town's customers within 24 hours.

DEP Spokeswoman Kelley Gillenwater released the following statement obtained by the Sun:

“While DEP inspectors at the mine site have observed no discolored water in the public service district's system and the water seeping from the pond today was clear, drinking water customers, out of an abundance of caution, were advised by health officials today not to drink the water until testing determines if there is any contamination.”

“We just don’t know where the sediment [that turned the water black] came from or if there is a problem,” Vineyard said. “We’re not taking any chances.”

If there is a major issue, Vineyard said the town will work to provide water, even if it means they tap into the nearest public water system.

For similar stories visit Water Online’s Source Water Contamination Solutions Center.

Image credit: "Coal, July 2013"Oatsy40 © 2013 used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: