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Enviros attack coal mining after W. Va. chemical spill

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Environmentalists are using the massive chemical spill in West Virginia last week to launch another crescendo of attacks against the coal mining industry, opening up another front in what critics call the war on coal.

For the last five days more than 300,000 West Virginians have had to go without running water since state officials banned tap water due to a massive chemical spill by Freedom Industries. The chemical, 4-methylcyclohexane, is used in coal processing.

“Coal mining communities are faced with the dangers of water pollution from coal mining and pollution every day,”said Mary Anne Hitt, director for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.

The coal and chemical industry are the backbones of the state’s economy. West Virginia is the second largest coal producing state and has about 150 chemical companies.

“This spill pulls the curtain back on the coal industry’s widespread and risky use of dangerous chemicals, and is an important reminder that coal-related pollution poses a serious danger to nearby communities,” Hitt added. “Americans, and the people of West Virginia, deserve greater accountability and transparency about coal industry practices.”

Over the weekend tests showed that chemical levels were consistently below the toxic threshold. In some parts of the state, there was no trace of chemicals at all. Officials said the tap water ban would soon be lifted.

“In no uncertain terms we were reminded that without potable water, ‘normal’ life grinds to a halt,” wrote Vickie Wolfe of the West Virginia Environmental Council. “We hope this serves as a reminder to our state government that clean, potable water is a precious resource, and that they will think twice before giving in to industry’s pleas to relax water quality standards.”

Last week, about 7,500 gallons of chemicals leaked from a tank owned by Freedom Industries into the Elk River in the central part of the state. The chemical quickly dissolved into the water, meaning safety officials couldn’t filter or skim it out of the river, so people have had to go without water for days until it’s diluted out of the water supply.

The state’s chemical safety board has formally launched an investigation into the chemical spill after West Va. Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller wrote the agency and urged them to look into it. Fox News reports that state environmental workers were at the spill site on thursday morning in response to requests from the water company, not Freedom Industries. State law requires immediate notification of any spill.

“Clean water is essential for life. We cannot cut corners in ensuring that our drinking water supply is protected,” reads a statement from the West Virginia Rivers Coalition. “There is too much at stake – our health, our economic stability, our confidence in water security. We hope that once the immediate crisis phase is over, serious thought will go into meaningful reforms and investment in protecting our rivers and streams that are our lifeline.”

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