Remember Buffalo Creek and Take Action

Feb 26, 2017

Forty-five years ago, a coal processing waste sludge dam operated by Pittston Coal Company gave way, killing 125 West Virginians and leaving 4,000 homeless. Pittston called the disaster "an act of God." Then-Gov. Arch Moore, father of current US Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, banned journalists from the area and said, "The only real sad part is that the state of West Virginia has taken a terrible beating that is worse than the disaster." Today, we still have over a hundred active coal sludge dams in West Virginia, and the state legislature and governor want to weaken a variety of protections for our citizens and environment. Come out tomorrow, Feb. 27, to the WV State Capitol, for an 8:30 public hearing on the "cancer creek" bill that would allow more pollution in streams, contributing to West Virginia's ongoing disaster to public health and safety. We've seen what happens when polluting industries get to do whatever they please. More details are below.

The Feb. 27 hearing on the "cancer creek" bill, HB 2506, will be in the WV House Chamber at 8:30 AM. More details about the bill, the hearing, and contacting your delegate by phone or letter are at the WV Rivers Coalition's website at

Feb. 27 is also the WV Environmental Council's "E-Day" at the Capitol. Coal River Mountain Watch will have a table; stop by for a visit!

The WV Division of Culture and History has a thorough website devoted to the Buffalo Creek disaster at

The Buffalo Creek disaster released 132 million gallons of coal waste sludge and water. These dams, made of coarse coal refuse, are supposed to be built to better standards now, but poor oversight and careless companies still cause disasters. The Martin County, KY disaster of October, 2000 happened when over 300 million gallons of sludge broke through into abandoned underground mines near Inez, KY, and from there into adjacent streams. That dam was engineered and operated by Massey Energy, who also built the 2.8-billion-gallon Shumate's Branch dam above the old Marsh Fork Elementary and the communities of Sundial and Edwight, and the Brushy Fork dam holding 7 billion gallons over the communities of Pettus and Whitesville. The Brushy Fork dam, like the Martin County dam, is built over abandoned underground mines. For perspective, the Shumate's Branch dam holds 21 times the volume of the Buffalo Creek flood, and Brushy Fork holds 53 times the volume.

The Brushy Fork coal waste sludge dam operated by Alpha Natural Resources on Coal River Mountain, holding 7 billion gallons of coal processing waste, built over abandoned underground mines upstream from Pettus and Whitesville, WV.

The Shumate's Branch sludge dam operated by Alpha Natural Resources, holding 2.8 billion gallons of coal waste sludge only 400 yards upstream from the old Marsh Fork Elementary School.

  Some spills are much smaller but do considerable damage. This 10,000-gallon sludge spill in 2005 polluted the entirety of Little Marsh Fork Creek and sent a five mile long stretch of black water down the Big Coal River. It was caused by a faulty pump that fed the coal processing waste to the 7-billion-gallon Brushy Fork dam.