Remembering Buffalo Creek

Feb 26, 2014

125 children, women, and men died 42 years ago today. Pittston Coal Company's waste sludge dam gave way, flooding Buffalo Creek, killing innocent citizens, and leaving 4,000 homeless.  The names and ages of the dead are listed here.


Please take a moment to remember them.


The company called the disaster an "act of God."  They were never indicted.  Pittston settled with the state of WV for $1 million.  They settled with survivors and victims' family members for an average of $13,000 each.


2.8 billion-gallon sludge dam above the old Marsh Fork Elementary and community of Edwight, WV

42 years later, you would think that things would have changed.  Not so much.  We still have 114 active sludge dams  in WV, with more in surrounding states.  The 2.8 billion gallons stored above the town of Edwight and the 7 billion gallons stored above Whitesville would make Buffalo Creek's 132 million gallon spill look like a trickle.


Dec. 2005 sludge spill, Little Marsh Fork near Whitesville, WV

The WV Dept. of Environmental Protection still fails to take our communities' health and safety seriously.  In 2009, federal investigators found that the WVDEP's "existing policies and procedures are not effective in reducing or preventing blackwater spills."  Sludge dams often fail compaction tests.


It "just didn't click in anybody's mind" at the WVDEP to inspect the leaking tank that poisoned 300,000 people's water in January.  Since then, we've had a 108,000-gallon sludge spill Feb. 11, another "black water" spill Feb. 19, and a mine water blowout Feb. 19. 


So we're delivering over 50,000 petition signatures to the Dept. of Interior with our Citizen Action for Real Enforcement (CARE) campaign partners.  You can join us, Thursday February 27, 2014, 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm at the Department of Interior main entrance, 1849 C Street NW, Washington, DC.  If you can't join us, please consider a donation for gas money to get our folks home.


What else can you do?


*Support the WV Clean Water Hub to provide clean water to those whose water is still unsafe.


*Contact your US congresspeople and urge them to support and co-sponsor the Appalachian Communities Health Emergency (ACHE) Act, HR 526. Just enter your zip code here to find their contact info.

While you have them on the line, tell them to oppose HR 2824, which would further allow destruction of our critical headwater streams, and also oppose HR 3826, which seeks to undermine Clean Air Act carbon pollution standards.  And sign this petition.


*Register to attend Mountain Justice Spring Break in Virginia March 1-9 or West Virginia March 9-16.  Bring a friend, learn more, and get active.


*And we need volunteers!


Thank you for all your help.  Please consider setting up a recurring monthly donation, and remember that all donations are tax-deductible.


And take another moment to cherish those you hold dear.


Vernon Haltom

Executive director, Coal River Mountain Watch