Trial begins in Massey coal silo dispute

Posted on behalf of Stewart Bell, PLLC on Mar 16, 2011 in Coal Mining Accidents

The world is watching the mounting crisis at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, fearful of what the media calls "large-scale releases" of radioactive material. Most of the nuclear facility's personnel left this week when monitors showed an alarming spike in radiation. Those left behind are taking shelter in the heavily-reinforced control room. The prime minister told residents within 18 miles of the plan to stay inside.

With all of this going on, a group of seven women took their places in a jury box in Beckley. During the next week or so, they will hear evidence and arguments in a class action lawsuit against Massey Energy Co. and several subsidiaries. What makes the case unusual is that there has been no explosion, no mining accident. No, the plaintiffs are a little like the people who live near Japan's distressed nuclear plant. They are concerned about the effects of the air they breathe.

The plaintiffs are children who attend an elementary school just west of Beckley. They want Massey to fund medical monitoring for past and present students who have been exposed to dangerous levels of coal dust from the company's nearby train-loading silo. The health risks associated with coal dust include asthma and black lung disease.

The suit was filed in 2005, following Massey's construction of the silo in 2004. The silo is just 235 feet, or 78 yards, from the school. According to plaintiff's counsel, the structure is 50 times larger than the hopper it replaced and is twice as close to the school. The complaint alleges that both the size and the proximity have caused coal dust to enter the building at levels far greater than the old hopper.

The mining company maintains that coal dust did not enter the school. In opening statements, defense counsel said that regulators, including the Environmental Protection Agency, had found no dust escaping from the silo. The silo is safe, he added.

Massey recently agreed to fund medical monitoring for slurry victims in southern West Virginia communities.


The Register-Herald (Beckley, WV), "Testimony begins in Marsh Fork silo lawsuit," Andrea Lannon, 03/16/11

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