Clear Fork residents want state DEP to help fix water issue from abandoned impoundment

By Chris Dickerson | Sep 28, 2015

PINEVILLE – Nearly 50 Wyoming County residents have asked a judge to issue an order forcing the state Department of Environmental Protection to do something about their drinking water.

Forty-six residents of Clear Fork filed their petition for writ of mandamus Sept. 16 in Wyoming Circuit Court against the DEP and Secretary Randy Huffman.

In the petition, the petitioners say they live downstream from an abandoned impoundment operated by Eastern Associated Coal LLC. They say the impoundment has now contaminated their well water.

“Petitioners depend on water wells for all of their domestic needs including drinking, bathing, cooking, cleaning and laundry,” the petition states. “Over the years, the water quality of the wells of the petitioners and their neighbors degraded.”

They say Eastern built, operated and later filled in a large impoundment near the head of Crany Branch, which is a tributary to Clear Fork. Three times in the last four years, the petitioners say they filed notices with the DEP about the contaminating of their water supplies. They say the proceedings were stayed because of the bankruptcy of Patriot Coal, Eastern’s parent company.

The petitioners say the DEP did conduct an investigation that included two water sampling expeditions. Also, the DEP accompanied one of the petitioners, an expert witness and counsel on an inspection of the abandoned impoundment that showed contaminated groundwater with iron and aluminum leaching out of the side.

“The testing data provided by WVDEP indicates surface water quality is significantly degraded by elevated levels of heavy metals in waters downstream from the impoundment as opposed to waters upstream from the impoundment indicating a negative influence exerted on surface water by the impoundment,” the petition says.

The petition says one of the couples who live furthest downstream from the impoundment has water that has five times more iron and four times more manganese than EPA drinking water standards. It says tests show that other petitioners had elevated levels of arsenic and lead in their water.

One petitioner had iron levels 33 times greater than EPA standards. It also says a non-petitioner who lives closed to the impoundment had iron levels 45 times higher and manganese levels 20 times higher than EPA standards.

In addition to contaminating the well water directly, the metals in the water have interacted with iron and sulfate reducing bacteria to release “malodourous toxic hydrogen sulfide gas” into the petitioners’ homes, according to the complaint.

“While the petitioners complained of the rotten egg smell associated with hydrogen sulfide gas, it was not until they consulted with (Marshall University environmental engineering professor D. Scott Simonton) that they realized the dangerous toxic and neurotoxic properties of this noxious gas,” the petition states.

It says the DEP terminated the complaint investigation on May 22, 2013, “without ordering Eastern to provide replacement water.”

The petitioners seek equitable relief either in the form of an injunction or a Writ of Mandamus for an order compelling the DEP to direct Eastern to supply them with emergency, temporary and permanent water replacement in accordance with state code. They also seek court costs, investigation costs, attorney fees and other relief.

The petitioners are being represented by Kevin W. Thompson and David R. Barney Jr. of Thompson Barney in Charleston. The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge Warren McGraw.

Wyoming Circuit Court case number 15-C-176

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