When theatergoers view the premiere of the stunning film documentary Coal Rush at the Atlanta Film Fest next week, the judgment on one of the best kept secrets in our nation's energy policy will be "revealed as water, and justice as a mighty torrent."
Never will theatergoers view a glass of clean water in the same way; never will coal be called "clean" again.
Sitting aside one of the beautiful headwaters in the great Appalachian mountain range, framed by the deciduous forests of life, a former coal operator hauntingly confesses to the enormity of an intentional "spill" that makes the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill look like a garden leak: "We pumped an ocean into the mountains."
Translation—Over a decade-long period, 1.4 billion gallons of toxic coal slurry (or the waste from poisonous chemicals and water used to wash the coal before it's ship to market) were injected into honey-combed underground mines and leached into underground aquifers, waterways, wells and drinking water sources that poisoned the very coal miners and their families serving the out-of-state Massey Energy coal company.
Transcending the political quagmire of "environmental vs. coal" banter in a powerful and chilling chronicle of a coal slurry tragedy foretold, Coal Rush's poignant work by acclaimed Italian filmmakers Lorena Luciano and Filippo Piscopo reveals the extraordinary health and human costs from the largely ignored effects of post-mining processing, and the heroic efforts of a small legal team and coalfield residents in Mingo County, West Virginia to hold the abominable Massey Energy coal company and its regulatory sycophants account for their polluting actions.
"Don't let them convince you that they didn't understand what was in that slurry," attorney Kevin Thompson says to a 4th generation coal miner and his wife. "They knew."
Here's the trailer:
Allowing residents and Massey operators to tell their side of the slurry story, Coal Rush provides one of the most devastating film portraits of regulatory disregard and ruthless corporate operations in memory. Brilliantly filmed, with a perfect spare banjo soundtrack, Coal Rush follows the 7-year crusade by Thompson and his determined band of attorneys, advocates and hundreds of affected residents to halt the injection of slurry and get Massey Energy and state officials to recognize the looming health crisis and unrelenting cancer corridors in their very mist.
"I was walking around dead," says area resident Donetta Blankenship, one of the Thompson's plaintiffs, who is stricken with liver disease among other elements.
The sheer numbers of health maladies—and deaths—along the coal slurry corridor of disease should be enough to trigger a bit of government action. Neighbors after neighbors with the same diseases mount like casualties in a never-ending war. A nurse tells one resident that she has picked up the bacteria associated with untreated drinking water in a Third World country.
"We had some faith that if your water was contaminated, that your government would step in and do something," says former miner Brenda McCoy. "But they didn't."
In keeping with Big Coal's legacy of denial—from black lung, to health care impacts on strip mining and mountaintop removal to carbon emissions—Massey Energy simply dismissed concerns as implausible. A Massey official boldly tells the interviewer his notoriously violation-ridden company is in compliance with regulatory requirements—Besides, "there is no credible scientific data that shows relationship between slurry injection and disposal and any adverse heath effects with humans."
When a coalfield resident challenges a state official to drink a jar of his tap water, he receives the same denial—and the same refusal to drink the water, or make any attempt to "understand what the average person has to put up with."
One of the most important film documentaries in years, turning the light on the dark side of all mining, Coal Rush faithfully documents the long-running legal proceedings until the final settlement in the summer of 2011. According to internal documents obtained by the AP, residents in the Mingo County area received an estimated $35 million in damages.
When the coal-fired lights turn back on in the Atlanta theater next week, viewers will be reminded that in the nearly 25 states that mine coal across the country, 17 still allow for underground injections of toxic coal slurry; farmers in central Illinois, for example, were devastated by similar coal slurry leaks in their watersheds over the last decade. There is a temporary ban in West Virginia.
"Water is the most precious resource on earth," the retired coal operator appeals, in his attempt to make amends with his actions, if only to "right a wrong for future generations."
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Eoin Higgins
Over 300 groups on Monday urged Senate leadership to reject a bill currently under consideration that would incentivize communities to sell off their public water supplies to private companies for pennies on the dollar.
<div id="fea63" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9a6f211c2bc5aedd34837944cb8eeedf"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1281000111481294849" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Water in Illinois is overwhelmingly public. Why is Tammy Duckworth sponsoring a bill that aims to change that? https://t.co/1V36Kkd99s</div> — The American Prospect (@The American Prospect)<a href="https://twitter.com/TheProspect/statuses/1281000111481294849">1594249201.0</a></blockquote></div>
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By Alyssa Murdoch, Chrystal Mantyka-Pringle and Sapna Sharma
Summer has finally arrived in the northern reaches of Canada and Alaska, liberating hundreds of thousands of northern stream fish from their wintering habitats.
A Good News Story?<p>On the surface, the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/fwb.13569" target="_blank">results from our study</a> appear to provide a "good news" story. Warming temperatures were linked to higher numbers of fish, more species overall and, therefore, potentially more fishing opportunities for northerners.</p><p>Initially, we were surprised to learn that warming was increasing the distribution of cold-adapted fish. We reasoned that modest amounts of warming could lead to benefits such as increased food and winter habitat availability without reaching stressful levels for many species.</p>
Photo of Arctic grayling (left) and Dolly Varden trout (right). Alyssa Murdoch / Lilian Tran / Nunavik Research Centre and Tracey Loewen / Fisheries and Oceans Canada<p>Yet, not all fish species fared equally well. Ecologically unique northern species — those that have evolved in colder, more nutrient-poor environments, such as Arctic grayling and Dolly Varden trout — were showing declines with warming.</p>
Fish Strandings and Buried Eggs<p>Recent news headlines run the gamut for Pacific salmon — from their increased escapades <a href="https://nunatsiaq.com/stories/article/more-pacific-salmon-showing-up-in-western-arctic-waters/" target="_blank">into the Arctic</a> to <a href="https://www.juneauempire.com/news/warm-waters-across-alaska-cause-salmon-die-offs/" target="_blank">massive pre-spawning die-offs</a> in central Alaska. Similarly, results from our study revealed different outcomes for fish depending on local climatic conditions, including Pacific salmon.</p><p>We found that warmer spring and fall temperatures may be helping juvenile salmon by providing a longer and more plentiful growing season, and by supporting early egg development in northern regions that were previously too cold for survival.</p><p>In contrast, salmon declined in regions that were experiencing wetter fall conditions, pointing to an increased risk of flooding and sedimentation that could bury or dislodge incubating eggs.</p>
Headwaters of the Wind River within the largely intact Peel River watershed in northern Canada. Don Reid / Wildlife Conservation Society Canada / Author provided<p>Interestingly, we found that certain climatic combinations, such as warmer summer water temperatures with decreased summer rainfall, were important in determining where Pacific salmon could survive. Summer warming in drier watersheds led to declines, suggesting that lowered streamflows may have increased the risk of fish becoming stranded in subpar habitats that were too warm and crowded.</p>
The Fate of Northern Fisheries<p>The promise of a warmer and more accessible Arctic has attracted mounting interest in new economic opportunities, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2019.103637" target="_blank">including fisheries</a>. As warming rates at higher latitudes are already <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank">two to three times global levels</a>, it seems probable that northern biodiversity will experience dramatic shifts in the coming decades.</p><p>Despite the many unknowns surrounding the future of Pacific salmon, many fisheries are currently <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/03632415.2017.1374251" target="_blank">thriving following warmer and more productive northern oceans</a>, and some <a href="https://doi.org/10.14430/arctic68876" target="_blank">Arctic Indigenous communities are developing new salmon fisheries</a>.</p><p>As warming continues, the commercial salmon fishing industry is poised to expand northwards, but its success will largely depend on extenuating factors such as <a href="https://www.eenews.net/stories/1060023067" target="_blank">changes to marine habitat and food sources</a> and <a href="https://www.yukon-news.com/news/promising-chinook-salmon-run-failed-to-materialize-in-the-yukon-river-panel-hears/" target="_blank">how many fish are caught during the freshwater stages of their journey</a>.</p><p>Even with the potential for increased northern biodiversity, it is important to recognize that some northern communities may be unable to adapt or may <a href="https://thenarwhal.ca/searching-for-the-yukon-rivers-missing-chinook/" target="_blank">lose individual species that are associated with important cultural values</a>.</p>
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By Joni Sweet
If you get a call from a number you don't recognize, don't hit decline — it might be a contact tracer calling to let you know that someone you've been near has tested positive for the coronavirus.
Interviews With Contact Tracers<p>Contact tracing is a public health strategy that involves identifying everyone who may have been in contact with a person who has the coronavirus. Contact tracers collect information and provide guidance to help contain the transmission of disease.</p><p>It's been used during outbreaks of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), Ebola, measles, and now the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.</p><p>It starts when the local department of health gets a report of a confirmed case of the coronavirus in its community and gives that person a call. The contact tracer usually provides information on how to isolate and when to get treatment, then tries to figure out who else the person may have exposed.</p><p>"We ask who they've been in contact with in the 48 hours prior to symptom onset, or 2 days before the date of their positive test if they don't have symptoms," said <a href="https://case.edu/medicine/healthintegration/people/heidi-gullett" target="_blank">Dr. Heidi Gullett</a>, associate director of the Center for Community Health Integration at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and medical director of the Cuyahoga County Board of Health in Ohio.</p>
“You’ve Been Exposed”<p>After the case interview, contact tracers will get to work calling the folks who may have been exposed to the coronavirus by the person who tested positive.</p><p>"We give them recommendations about quarantining or isolating, getting tested, and what to do if they become sick. If they're not already sick, we still want them to self-quarantine so that they don't spread the disease to anyone else if they were to become sick," said Labus.</p><p>Generally, the contact tracer won't ask for additional contacts unless they happen to call someone who is sick or has a confirmed case of the virus. They will help ensure the contact has the resources they need to isolate themselves, if necessary. The contact tracer may continue to stay in touch with that person over the next 14 days.</p><p>"We follow the percentage of people that were contacts, then converted into being actual cases of the virus. It's an important marker to help us understand what kind of transmission happens in our community and how to control the virus," said Gullett.</p>
Why You Should Participate (and What Happens If You Don’t)<p>A <a href="https://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099(20)30457-6/fulltext" target="_blank">Lancet study</a> from June 16, which looked at data from more than 40,000 people, found that COVID-19 transmission could be reduced by 64 percent through isolating those who have the coronavirus, quarantining their household, and contacting the people they may have exposed.</p><p>The combination strategy was significantly more effective than mass random testing or just isolating the sick person and members of their household.</p><p>However, contact tracing is only as effective as people's willingness to participate, and a small number of people who've contracted the coronavirus or were potentially exposed are reluctant to talk.</p><p>"Contact tracers have all been hung up on, cussed at, yelled at," said Gullet.</p><p>The hesitation to talk to contact tracers often stems from concerns over privacy — a serious issue in healthcare.</p>
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