Hearing set in Massey coal dust suit

CHARLESTON - A Raleigh County judge will hold a hearing later this month on a lawsuit that alleges hundreds of children were exposed to toxic coal dust from a Massey Energy processing plant and silo next to Marsh Fork Elementary School.

Williamson attorney Kevin Thompson is suing Massey and three subsidiaries over alleged exposure from the silo that sits less than 300 feet from the school.

Judge Harry L. Kirkpatrick III granted class action status to the case in December. However, it fell in limbo because his ruling went to an incorrect address and was returned to the courthouse in Beckley.

Thompson told The Associated Press he only learned of the ruling after filing a supplemental motion with the court in June, then calling to follow up.

The suit, filed on behalf of Woodrow and Elva Dillon and their two children, accuses the coal giant and subsidiaries Goals Coal Co., AT Massey Coal Co. and Massey Coal Services, Inc., of negligence and "creating a public nuisance."

It demands unspecified punitive damages, as well as a court-administered medical monitoring program.

Massey has not yet filed a response with the court.

Goals Coal has operated the silo since Nov. 2003, and the plaintiffs argue more than 300 students and faculty members might have been affected by the dust.

The judge said he doubted many would participate in the lawsuit, but would see how things develop. He said he would decertify the class if it turns out to be much smaller than claimed.

The case argues long-term exposure puts students and faculty at risk of developing health problems.

The elementary school, which sits exactly 235 feet from the silo, served as a hub for media during the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster that killed 29 workers in April.

Residents have long complained about the school's proximity to the silo and a dam that sits above the school and holds gallons upon gallons of coal slurry.

However, in June, the state School Building Authority said it would provide the remaining money needed to replace the 70-year-old school.

In addition, Massey and the county school board have pledged $1.5 million for the project, and Los Angeles-based Annenberg Foundation is donating $2.5 million.

Construction on the new school is expected to begin next year.

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