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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Louis-Rosenberg explains dangers of Mountain Top Removal Mining

Published: April 3, 2009
Section: News

Mountain top mining: Mathew Louis-Rosenberg explains the health hazards of mounain top mining and its effect on water supplies on Monday.<br />PHOTO BY Abraham Berin/The Hoot

Mountain top mining: Mathew Louis-Rosenberg explains the health hazards of mounain top mining and its effect on water supplies on Monday.
PHOTO BY Abraham Berin/The Hoot

Whenever Mathew Louis-Rosenberg is asked for a one line summation of his work with the Coal River Mountain Watch and the Sludge Safety Project, a collaborative effort of Coal River Mountain Watch and other groups concerned with the harmful effects of Mountain Top Coal Mining, he simply responds: “people are dying – that’s the one sentence.”

Rosenberg started with some “coal slurry 101,” introducing his Monday night audience to the coal mining processes that are slowly poisoning the residents of Boone County, WV.

Rosenberg, along with co-presenter Glen Collins, spent almost two hours talking about Mountain Top Removal Mining (MTR) that involves taking explosives, blowing off the top of a mountain, and scooping out the coal.

The excess waste is then thrown into surrounding valleys. The coal is “wet washed” to get a purer product. The result of this process is coal slurry, a toxic waste that has created Erin Brockovich-esque woes for the 250 or so families in the Boone County mining town of Prenter. A handout further explained that, “coal slurry is a fluid produced by washing coal with water and chemicals prior to shipping the coal to market.”

The left over water is then either stored in multi-million gallon dams, or pumped back into the ground.

In Prenter, these dams and pump sites are located precariously close to the wells from which the town gets its water.

The town, explained Rosenberg, “was founded as a town to mine coal,” and the coal companies employ almost all the town inhabitants. Coal has been at the heart of this town since the 1800’s, but it has only began causing problems in the past decade.

The water stored in the ground and in the dams has began to leak into the wells from which Prenter gets its tap water.

A handout contained a partial list of the organic compounds and heavy metals that proceed to seep into Prenter’s tap water, including arsenic, benzidine, tin, and a host of other toxins.

In case you couldn’t picture the tiny particles floating around in the water, Rosenberg and Collins passed around three samples of tap water from Prenter, all a different hue of brownish-yellow, with an odor possible to smell even through the glass jars that contained the sample.

The presentation was started with a Youtube video ( that depicted how this very same water reacted with a shiny new penny. After six minutes in this water, the penny was streaked in different colors as it began to tarnish.

Rosenberg later pointed out the irony in the fact that coal is what is poisoning the water. Most water filtration systems (like Brita) actually use coal as a filter, as it naturally functions, even while still in the ground, as a filter by absorbing gasses and impurities. Collins and Rosenberg stopped at Brandeis as part of a tour that includes Northeastern and Wesleyan in an effort to raise awareness and funds. President of Fresh, Nathaniel Lazar ’10, had heard that the pair would be speaking in Boston, but were not available at that time to speak at Brandeis. Lazar was, “hoping they’d be here before I graduated” and he obviously got what he had hoped for. Lazar got them to come to campus after contacting them directly, “they were incredibly accommodating.”

The pair was also the first speakers brought to campus by Fresh, a club started Spring 2008, dedicated to bringing clean water to wherever it is needed.

“It was the first speaker we ever brought to campus and it went really well,” said Bruce Strong ’10 a member of Fresh and member of Monday night’s audience.

Coal River Mountain Watch and the Sludge Safety Project have seen some success for their efforts; they have been able to ship potable water into Prenter, and the coal companies have picked up some of the costs of bringing in fresh water.

However, the solution is only temporary and they have yet to get clean water to all of Prenter, let alone the entirety of Boone County, WV.