Yesterday The New York Times featured a sublimely written story by Dan Barry on the effects of mountaintop removal mining on a small town in West Virginia called Lindytown. The story, called "As the Mountaintops Fall, a Coal Town Vanishes," traces the plummeting fall of an entire mountain and the town below it to the draglines and machinery of the coal industry.
Over the course of just a few years, Lindytown has been transformed into an eerie ghost town, with just one family, the Richmonds, holding out and staying home, refusing to be made refugees of mountaintop removal mining. Life sticking around, though, isn’t easy. Barry writes about the troubling dust that blows in from the barren mountaintop above and coats everything in town, making life near the site hard to tolerate.
This artfully written story’s one shortcoming is that it just barely touches on the irreversible water contamination caused by this destructive form of mining and the grave health impacts that people nearby face as a result. It’s not only tremendously hard to live near mountaintop removal mining, it’s downright dangerous.
The endangerment takes its toll on residents’ health and mental state, as the Richmonds have seen. As Barry writes, they are reminded of the grim possibilities every day when they look out their window and see an enormous boulder from the mining operation teetering precariously over the ridge just above their home. Their home sits directly in the boulder’s downward path.
Another impact that people near mountaintop removal have to deal with, or try to survive, is heavy flash flooding. When the coal companies bury the streams and fill the valleys with their mining waste, the water running off from mountains has nowhere to flow but over and through the properties and homes in communities below. This filmstrip gives you a glimpse of the kind of floods that destroy homes and properties near mountaintop removal sites and valley fills.
The other impacts are less visible but even more menacing: Cancer hangs over the people in these communities like the boulder that teeters above the Richmonds. It just is never in plain sight, and it comes quietly and gradually.
A Google satellite image shows Lindytown, marked by the blue flag, surrounded by massive mountaintop removal mining sites.
In February, I went to see for myself what was left of Lindytown. The Goldman Prize winner Maria Gunnoe, who Barry speaks with and writes about in his story, was my guide. Maria is an organizer for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, an amazing group that we at Earthjustice are proud to work with and represent in the courts.
Maria took me and photographer Mark Schmerling to Lindytown. We saw the abandoned miners’ union hall (obsolete once Massey took over and shut out the unions), the church, and the homes that were once bright and bustling with families and friends, now just haggard remains in a sad corner of the world.
This clip is of Maria sharing her first memories in Lindytown and relating what the people there went through before finally accepting Massey’s buy-out and clearing out of their hometown: