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Enough is Enough: Coal Pollution Spills Reveal a Water Safety Crisis

The West Virginia chemical spill underscores why we need to do more to safeguard our water supply.

Post Carbon Institute, Sierra ClubOVEC and AlterNet have partnered to show us what’s at stake in the fight against coal with a powerful slideshow of recent coal disasters (including the Freedom Industries chemical spill, the Duke Energy ash spill and Tuesday’s slurry spill in West Virginia), mountaintop removal mining, and more. Every image in the photo essay is linked to three meaningful actions that you can take right now to fight back against dirty coal and help protect those effected by coal disasters. We need your help getting the word out; please take a look at the images, take a stand with those effected by the recent spills, and share far and wide.

Click the thumbnails above to view the slideshow.

Article originally published by Compass on February 11, 2014.

When it comes to rivers and clean, safe water, you don't know what you've got until it's gone. Hundreds of thousands of people have learned that the hard way over recent weeks, after a dangerous coal chemical spilled into the Elk River in West Virginia's capitol city, and then toxic coal ash from a retired Duke Energy power plant spilled into North Carolina's Dan River (and now there's another coal slurry spill in WV).

Church stands beside now-polluted creek after West Virginia coal slurry spill, February 11, 2014. Photo credit: Vivian Stockman

In the wake of these disasters, frightened families have been faced with a sobering reality -– the state agencies they were counting on to keep their water safe have actually had their hands tied behind their backs for years, thanks to decades of pressure from the coal industry.

Chaos, fear, and uncertainty -- that's all the people affected by the chemical spill in West Virginia and the coal ash spill in North Carolina have come to expect from their leaders in the wake of these disasters. It's simply unacceptable.

Freedom Industries spill, December 31, 2013. Photo credit: Vivian Stockman

Yesterday in Charleston, West Virginia, the House subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure held a field hearing on the spill, just a day after WV Senator Jay Rockefeller  said he still had no faith in the safety of water for more than 300,000 West Virginians, stating:

"(E)ven if some expert group told me it was safe I don't think I'd believe it," he told ABC affiliate station WCHS-TV Friday, adding "They can say it's not hazardous or this or that, but it doesn't mean anything."

Well water contaminated by coal strip mining runoff. Photo credit: Vivian Stockman

And the senator gets very specific on who is to blame for his skepticism:

"It just gets into the degree of control that corporations have over people," he said. "They dominate in West Virginia's life. Governors get elected -- and I was a governor once -- and they appoint people to regulatory jobs who helped them in campaigns. What does that tell you?"

This comes just days after physicians in West Virginia  reinforced a recommendation for children and pregnant women to avoid drinking the water -- over one month after the spill. It's gotten so bad in West Virginia that,  as the New York Times reports, a key selling point for restaurants is that they only use bottled water for cooking.

Sadly, corporate control over the safety of our water isn't just a problem for those of us in West Virginia. In North Carolina, Duke Energy finally announced yesterday that it had stopped the flow of toxic coal ash from a retired coal plant, after a week-long spill that dumped 82,000 tons of arsenic containing toxic coal ash into the Dan River.

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