W.Va. spill latest case of coal tainting US waters

January 18, 2014 • Business

Sarah Bergstrom poses for a photo with her son Blake, 4, Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, in her home in Charleston, W.Va. The 29-year-old nurse who is 4 months pregnant with her second child was devastated when she learned after a ban on tap water was lifted days after a chemical leak that health officials urged pregnant women not to drink tap water until the chemical is entirely undetectable. (AP Photo/John Raby)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The chemical spill that contaminated water for hundreds of thousands in West Virginia was only the latest and most high-profile case of coal sullying the nation’s waters.

For decades, chemicals and waste from the coal industry have tainted hundreds of waterways and groundwater supplies, spoiling private wells, shutting down fishing and rendering streams virtually lifeless, according to an Associated Press analysis of federal environmental data.

But because these contaminants are released gradually and in some cases not tracked or regulated, they attract much less attention than a massive spill such as the recent one in West Virginia.

“I’ve made a career of body counts of dead fish and wildlife made that way from coal,” said Dennis Lemly, a U.S. Forest Service research biologist who has spent decades chronicling the deformities pollution from coal mining has caused in fish.

“How many years and how many cases does it take before somebody will step up to the plate and say, ‘Wait a minute, we need to change this’?”

The spill of a coal-cleaning chemical into a river in Charleston, W.Va., left 300,000 people without water. It exposed a potentially new and under-regulated risk to water from the coal industry when the federal government is still trying to close regulatory gaps that have contributed to coal’s legacy of water pollution.

From coal mining to the waste created when coal is burned for electricity, pollutants associated with coal have contaminated waterways, wells and lakes with far more insidious and longer-lasting contaminants than the chemical that spilled out of a tank farm on the banks of the Login to read more

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