West Virginia communities settle Massey slurry claims

Posted on behalf of Stewart Bell, PLLC on Aug 03, 2011 in Wrongful Death

Alpha Natural Resources, the new owner of Massey Energy Co., announced this week that they have reached a settlement with the residents of three southern West Virginia communities. More than 700 residents in the area claimed that the mining company contaminated the water supply when it disposed of coal slurry in worked-out underground mines. That contamination, they said, caused cancer, brain damage and a host of serious illnesses, as well as wrongful death .

Massey and its subsidiary Rawl Sales & Processing have admitted no wrongdoing by agreeing to the settlement. The financial terms are confidential.

The residents claimed that from 1978 to 1987 Massey and Rawl had pumped more than a billion gallons of coal slurry into abandoned underground mines in the area. Slurry is the mix of solid waste and water produced by coal processing. Many chemicals in slurry have been linked with cancer, and some are on the Environmental Protection Agency's list of priority pollutants.

It's taken seven years for the parties to wrap up this case. Progress has been slow and has come one step at a time. In 2006, for example, the plaintiffs obtained an injunction that stopped Massey from dumping slurry in Mingo County. That same year, the courts ordered Massey to provide the communities with water. The following year, the communities were able to link up with city water.

Finally, this past February the parties announced that Massey had agreed to fund ongoing medical monitoring for the affected communities. We wrote about this in our February 25, 2011 post.

In this last round of negotiations, the companies agreed to provide catastrophic health care to the claimants. The medical monitoring was just the first step. According to plaintiffs' counsel, without proper health care coverage for the illnesses and conditions discovered by the monitoring, even more people would die.

One plaintiff expressed her satisfaction with the settlement with a call to action: Communities should not have to put up with corporations' bad behavior. Communities, she said, "can fight and stick together. They can fight and win."

Source: Williamson Daily News, "Massey settles Rawl lawsuit," Julia Roberts Goad, July 29, 2011

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