The story behind the water crisis in Martin County, Kentucky


The coal slurry disaster of 2000

The story behind the water crisis in Martin County, Kentucky

Carlos Delgado

19 February 2018

The residents of Martin County, Kentucky, like those in so many cities, towns, and communities across America and the world, do not have access to clean water. Since the beginning of the year the economically distressed former coal mining county on the border of West Virginia has seen frequent and long-lasting water service interruptions, the result of dilapidated and deteriorating infrastructure. The water that does come out of the pipes is foul-smelling and irritating to skin and eyes and is often contaminated with heavy metals and carcinogens.

The water poses such a health risk that the water bills sent out by the county include a warning that it could cause an increased risk of cancer, as well as liver, kidney, and central nervous system damage. Despite this, residents are facing a possible 50 percent hike for contaminated water.

After extracting untold billions from generations of coal miners, the energy giants have largely abandoned eastern Kentucky, like the rest of the Appalachian coalfields, and left behind nothing but economic and environmental ruin. Coal industry employment in Martin, Harlan, Pike and other eastern counties, which was 40,000 in 1980, fell to 3,896 in 2017, the lowest level since 1898. Barely 300 miners are working in Martin County.

The polluting of Martin County’s water supply can be traced to the environmentally destructive practices such as mountaintop removal mining, which routinely pollute local ecosystems with waste and processing byproducts.

The coal companies were given a free hand to do this by the Democratic and Republican parties, which gutted regulations to boost corporate profits. Equally…

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