Confronting Ecological Crisis in Appalachia and the South: University and Community Partnerships

By Stephanie McSpirit; Lynne Faltraco et al. | Go to book overview

4
The Martin County Project
Students, Faculty, and Citizens Research
the Effects of a Technological Disaster

Stephanie McSpirit, Sharon Hardesty, Patrick Carter-North, Mark Grayson, and Nina McCoy

The Big Branch Coal Waste Impoundment, owned and operated by the Martin County Coal Company, a subsidiary of Massey Energy (MCCCMassey), occupied approximately seventy-two acres in Martin County, Kentucky. It rested at the top of the stream head to two of the county’s primary creeks: Coldwater and Wolf Creeks. Most of Martin County’s eleven thousand inhabitants live between these two creeks, and therefore most of the county’s inhabitants were affected in some way by the events of October 2000.

At midnight on Thursday, October 12, an employee of MCCCMassey was working near the west mine portal when he noticed that the belt line had stopped. Based on documented events in one investigative report, the employee then radioed the dispatcher, and other coal company employees were directed to travel to north-end mine operations. There they observed coal slurry flowing out of a mine portal at a mounting velocity. By the night’s end the Big Branch Impoundment had emptied its seventy-two-acre contents of black water, coal slurry, and sludge into underground mine works below the impoundment. The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) estimated that 300 million gallons of the slurry and sludge materials escaped into the county’s two principal creeks. One Martin County citizen who had long been involved in the coal mining industry commented on what came down Coldwater and Wolf Creeks that Tuesday, “The coal com-

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