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November 15, 2010

Antrim Caskey's "Dragline": Mingo Slurry

Valley Fill — when the crumbled mountaintop fills up what used to be a valley — creating desolation where once there were diverse hardwood forests. The trench is for runoff and drainage. The Appalachia Restoration Act in the Senate right now would prohibit more valley fill.

This is the third post of photographer Antrim Caskey’s Mountaintop Mining Watch series from West Virginia on mountaintop removal by coal companies.

In Charleston, West Virginia today, more than six hundred residents of Mingo County showed up at a five-judge mass litigation panel in order to see if their lawsuit could be settled through legally binding mediation. For decades, Rawl Sales & Processing, a subsidiary of Massey Energy, contaminated their water with coal slurry. Slurry is the waste from washing coal to process it for burning. The lawsuit started in 2004, and as Antrim reports, they have been “unflappable, endured to the end, through generations. You had to show up today to still be part of the case, and as they read out the names, many of the people were already dead.”

Donetta Blankenship, holding samples of her well water that she collected in soft-drink and water bottles. Antrim made these photographs in 2006. As she documented Mingo, she remembers that “it was a turning point for me” in her commitment to the story.

At left, Kenneth Stroud demonstrates the water quality inside his home in Rawl. Stroud tells a terrible tale, “This water is ungodly — the odor, the oily film that comes with the water — I break out in hives all over my body after I take a shower.” Stroud has severe memory loss and uncontrollable blinking. At right, Carmelita and Ernie Brown. Antrim saw that Carmelita’s health improved dramatically after their sustained pressure on local government finally got them piped in water.

One of Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship’s homes on top of an intact mountain, as seen from Carmelita and Ernie Brown’s kitchen window in Rawl.

If the mediation fails to reach a settlement, the case will go to trial next summer. That is, unless the coal companies can once again delay a final settlement, as the people of Mingo continue to die off.

–Alan Chin

PHOTOGRAPHS by ANTRIM CASKEY / APPALACHIA WATCH

Please see the other posts in the Mountaintop Mining Watch series.

About the Photographer

Antrim Caskey

Antrim Caskey is a photojournalist based in the Coal River Valley, W.Va., and specializes in reporting on the human and environmental costs of mountaintop-removal coal mining. She has been arrested several times in the course of her reporting and been sued by Massey Energy. She founded Appalachia Watch, an advocacy journalism project, and self-published "Dragline," an award-winning photo exposé on mountaintop removal. Her work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Smithsonian magazine, the New York Times, and was featured in the documentary The Last Mountain. See more of Antrim's work for BagNews here.

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