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tv   Fault Lines  Al Jazeera  January 22, 2015 7:00am-7:31am EST

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log on to our facebook page. follow us on twitter. we'll see you next time in washington, i'm ray suarez. >> the mountains of west virginia have provided generations with jobs in coal. but on january 9th, 2014, the state woke up to an example of the costs of it's industrial economy. a tank containing a chemical used the process of coal production had leaked its contents into the elk river, just a mile upstream from the largest water treatment plant in
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west virginia. >> water is scarce following a warning from west virginia's governor, do not drink, bathe, cook or wash clothes using tap water.., >>...chemical leak, a chemical used to clean coal, leaked from a storage facility... >>...the states health department says the water was contaminated with a potentially harmful chemical, mchm... >> a federal investigation is on-going - but this spill was just the most visible of many incidents in west virginia - where, in the past decade, the coal industry has recorded thousands of water violations. fault lines has come here to find out how the state's main industry affects its most vital resource. >> little testing have been done on the chemical that leaked
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from these tanks into the river just below. after the spill freedom industries declared bankruptcy and they're supposed to remove the tanks from the bank, but a lot of people want the tanks to remain there - because they say they're the best evidence of what is a crime scene. officials say the water is now safe to drink. but some don't believe them. we've come to meet a group of volunteers who've been distributing clean water to people who still don't trust the tap water. twice a week, they make a 2 hour trip to fill a 400 gallon container with clean spring water. >> three hundred thousand people plus have got poisoned water now and are test subjects to see
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what happens when mchm is in your drinking water. the task of giving everyone good water is too large. >> too large for a handful of volunteers? >> yeah >> dj's hometown prenter, is served by the water supply that was contaminated. like a lot of his neighbors, he's still refusing to drink the city water or wash in it. >> i joined up with the clean water hub because i believed in what they were doing and i felt that they were sincere. it was from the kindness of their hearts. to see people fight for something they believe in and not just stand around and watch it happen. >> at the distribution site, people are lining up. >> i was taking a shower one day and it didn't have no smell and it burnt me up.
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>> it burnt you up? what do you mean >> it burnt my skin. put spots on it. >> wow how have you been getting by? >> i've been getting by by getting water wherever i can get water. >> dj claims he was sick for 2 weeks from the contaminated city water because he drank it for several days before he heard about the spill. >> i didn't know what was going on. i didn't have cable at my house, so i didn't know what was going on. i actually went to a friend's house and drank a cup of water and they freaked out on me and were like what are you doing drinking the water? and that's when i found out the water was bad. one spill would have been bad enough for someone like dj. several years ago, many residents in the town of prenter say they began to notice that their water smelled strange. >> it started out, they didn't know what it was exactly couldn't explain it, so they started doing tests and found
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multiple chemicals and pretty much all the wells through here. >> were they able to clean up the water? >> no. they ran city water up through here >> wait, wait,wait, wait... so they ran city water? >> they ran city up through here and gave it to everybody >> ok, 4 or 5 years ago, you realize water is contaminated. you get on city water from charleston and then that gets contaminated. >> we're choosing from two evils here. it's either water that we drank all of our life that we're used to by now that is contaminated or water that we just got that is contaminated. >> dj told me that for years mining companies had pumped coal waste into the ground near prenter, contaminating the well water. community surveys have found elevated rates here of kidney and gall bladder disease. the people settled with the companies out of court.
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>> here, if you didn't work for the coal mine, what would you do? >> gas station? >> there can't be too many jobs at the gas station >> no >> the mining companies around prenter actually reported that they were violating their permits disposing of their toxic waste but the state environmental protection agency never issued any fines. historically the coal industry has been a dominant force here - both economically and culturally. >> beautiful area, and then you see these really terrific creeks and rivers that are blue and green, and every time you see it, the first thing you think is: that's gorgeous. and the second thing you think is: or are those mining chemicals.
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and you really don't know. there's been so many instances of contamination here, it just makes you kind of question the beauty of everything and wonder what's poison and what's not. to see how mining operations work, we'd requested site tours from several mining companies but they declined. so we asked scott simonton for help. an environmental engineer and scientist, he's studied mining and its impact on water for decades. he's also a pilot. >> a lot of these mining sites are restricted so we can't get to them on the ground down here, so today we're going to take to the skies to see what they look like from above. coal from west virginia is facing competition from other states and from natural gas. and after extracting the most
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easily accessible coal over the past few decades, companies have turned to a faster - and more aggressive - process to get what's left: - mountain top removal. the top of a mountain is blasted off to expose the seams of coal. heavy metals that have been locked in rock for millennia are exposed to air and water. >> pretty much anywhere you see cleared areas up here on mountain tops, those are surface mining sites. chemicals like the one that leaked into elk river are used to wash the coal at prep plants like this - to separate the coal from rock and clay. the waste that is left over - known as slurry - is pumped into impoundment lakes.
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sometimes it's piped into abandoned underground mines. if it leaks out, slurry can be a major source of contamination to groundwater >> mining impacts ground water, period. the problem is you've got just a myriad of contaminants and contaminant routes or pathways - surface waters, groundwater, air exposures - and so all kinds of contaminants and people being exposed in lots of different ways. so it's really hard to come up with - this contaminant travelled this way and caused this problem. >> is part of what you do an attempt to stop mining? >> no i don't think so. what i want is to better understand the impact - what has
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been called the 'externalities' of coal mining. to me, whatever the price of a ton of coal is today doesn't truly reflect the cost to these communities or these externalities, the cost to people's health, to their environment and to me - you can't even have a discussion of whether coal mining is good or bad unless you understand what the cost and the benefits are. >> watch more "faultlines" on demand or visit
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in west virginia's coal country, it's not hard to find people who say their water is polluted by mining. in the small hollow of cedar creek, we went to talk to sherry walker. in the last few years, she claims, she and her neighbors have all had their well water go bad. according to the nearby mining company's own reports, their site violated its permits hundreds of times from 2006 to 2011. the mining site's permit was renewed in 2012. >> when did you pour this? >> i got that yesterday. >> have you had this tested? >> yes. >> what did they tell you? >> the water is terrible. it's got a lot of iron in it it's got a lot of arsenic in it.
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>> arsenic? >> yes it's got a high level of arsenic in it. >> it's like a snow globe of things you don't want to put in your body. so you're quarter mile from a mine? >> yes. my water didn't get bad until it started all that. and then this is what i live with, daily. and i know by the neighbors, they have the same situation. it's a lot of hassle. be grateful if you have good water. >> sherry's water - as well as her neighbors', has levels of toxins above normal safe drinking water standards. she believes the bad water has affected the health of her family, especially her son jason. >> i have crone's disease >> crone's disease what's that? >> it's a digestive disorder. i really think it's from the water. >> is there any way to prove it's from the water?
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>> no. >> you know your water is bad and you know you're sick. but it's hard to have that smoking gun >> well most of the minerals that are bad on that gives you health problems digestively. >> digestive health problems in spite of their health problems sherry tells me she is disappointed that a mine in her area is having trouble getting its permits. >> they have to go through a lot of channels to get permits to come in an area and to start everything up. >> has anyone said its obama's war on coal? >> (nodding) yes, that has a lot to do with a lot of men losing their jobs. >> do you think the mines are over regulated? >> yes, i do. all my life my daddy worked at the coal mines, so i've been raised around the mining. my children have been raised
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around it, that's all i've seen basically. >> like sherri, many west virginians, believe that tougher regulations would lead companies to cut jobs. as west virginia's coal reserves get tapped out and its role in the economy begins to shrink - the industry has launched skillful pr campaigns across appalachia to maintain its influence. >> the coal industry and other industries could comply with the law and make a profit and the jobs would be there but they persuaded legislators and politicians and indeed the public that you can't have both. and that is simply not true. >> pat mcginley teaches environmental law and policy at west virginia university - an
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important job in a state where private lawyers often have to step in for citizens when regulation fails. he says the recent freedom industries spill is just business as usual. >> it seems like the costs fall to the people when regulation fails >> these scenarios are repeated time and again in west virginia and other states. it's a corporate mentality - make a fast buck we'll get away with this and actually if the law is enforced we'll work the system and pay a low fine and ultimately we'll come out ahead. the freedom industry tanks were built in the 1940s and the 50s. inspections by the dep were few and far between.
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mandatory leak prevention plans were never filed. >> it is basically a huge subsidy to polluting industries if they are allowed to operate without complying with environmental regulations. coal and chemical companies do bring jobs and money into a state that is struggling for both, but the lack of regulation comes with its own monetary cost. it's estimated that the public health burden from industrial pollution across appalachia runs at nearly $75 billion dollars a year. and while many in the coal industry and many politicians deny that the health fallout is real, health care providers on the ground have seen it daily. as a doctor in southern west virginia, daniel doyle often
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treats coalfield residents. one of the clinics he works at is just outside charleston, so he's also been seeing people who were impacted by january's chemical spill. >> it's a huge population cohort study and it will take us 10 20, 30 years - maybe longer - to know what the long term effects are. no question that it's an experiment, but mountaintop removal is an experiment. the water pollution that is taking place is an experiment. >> do you see the health consequences of mountain top removal on the people who live around it? >> definitely in the last eight years there's been a series of epidemiological studies finding clear association between mountain top removal and cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, birth defects, certain cancers and so there's a body of knowledge which coal companies are actively investing in
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discrediting by sponsoring their own research institutes to try to find flaws in this. this is news that people don't want. >> watch more "faultlines" on demand or visit
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>> we're pretty far of the grid here - there's no electricity there's no cell signal here - its kayford mountain - and we're meeting a formal federal regulator jack spadaro. for decades, jack's remit was to inspect mines and coal dams. during that time, he helped write many of the laws that govern surface mining in the us - including the surface mining act of 1977. now he's a whistleblower. he claims that the coal industry has cultivated a culture of lax environmental regulation and
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enforcement over the past few decades. >> we're finding tens of thousands of adverse discharges that are not in compliance with the clean water act yet the state of west virginia issued the permit and then fails to enforce the law after the permit has begun. they could comply with the law it's still quite possible to make a substantial profit and stay in compliance with the law. what they're doing is ignoring the law because they can increase their profits >> you're making the argument that the laws are on the books to make it safer but they're not enforced... why aren't they enforced? >> they aren't enforced because of the enormous power of the mining industry in a state like west virginia to control the political process. we have had a series of governors, one in particular named joe manchin - he is now a us senator - who has done
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everything he can to weaken the enforcement of environmental laws when it came to mining. he came out of the mining industry, he was beholden to the industry he has paid them back by appointing people who will not enforce the laws. joe manchin is one of west virginia's most prominent politicians - and one of the coal industry's strongest advocates in washington. since running for the senate in 2010, he's received over $660,000 from the mining industry - and nearly $100,000 from the chemical industry - not including a $225,000 ad buy. we wanted to ask him if his ties to industry impact his decisions on regulation and if january's spill has changed the way he
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views environmental enforcement at home. >> hey senator manchin, has the spill with freedom industries changed your view on government regulation in west virginia? >> the what now? >> the freedom industries spill, 300,000 thousand people? >> it's always very concerning - hey, i'm running into a meeting now - jon, set something up and we'll get together we were told the senator was too busy to speak with us. back in west virginia, the state department of environmental protection declined our request for an on-camera interview as well. but in a statement told us that across the agency, violations are taken very seriously and from 2009 to 2013, their division of mining issued $15 million in penalties.
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we wanted to see how the industry felt about the level of regulation here, so we went to talk to the west virginia coal association - they represent 90% of the state's mining industry. bill raney is the president >> do you think the dep in west virginia does a good enough job of what it is supposed to do? >> i do and you know we struggle with them and we argue with them, but you work with them and they know what's best for west virginia. it doesn't need to be dictated from philadelphia or washington because the guys in west virginia know what's best. >> why do companies have a hard time not violating their permits? it seems like permit violations are part of the game? >> i don't know if they are part of the game. there are so many moving parts on a mining operation and so many standards to meet.
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you're going to have some interruptions. if they are serious they need to be fixed. the vast majority of the people and the people i'm proud to represent they are wanting to do the right thing because they live here. they are not going to do anything to mess up the future of the state. dj estep is trying to help his community face the uncertainty about the health of the water supply after the freedom industries spill. most people in the us never have to think about whether the water in their tap is safe - dj has been thinking about it since he was a teenager >> 17 years old, having back pain, throwing up blood, you went to a doctor and what did you find out? >> it was a rare kidney disease
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>> a rare kidney disease. do they know what caused that? >> yes, my specialist determined that it was from the spill from massey. massey was one of the companies that pumped coal waste into the ground for years around prenter, far beyond what their permits allowed. dj says he drank what he claims is contaminated water through his entire childhood. he told us that his doctors have told him that the damage can't be repaired and that they don't expect he'll live past his thirties. >> they took away...i mean, they took away my life. they took away - i feel like i'm rushing all the time, because i'm trying to get things done. i went to a protest in charleston to - we were going to deliver water on the governors front yard and they refused us
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they refused us to be around his front yard - were threatening arrests and that showed me that he didn't care about the water as much as he cared about his own property. a lot of us lost a lot more than just property. it's amazing what the price of a life costs these days. >> watch more "faultlines" on demand or visit >> beyond the verdict and on the streets >> there's been another teenager shot and killed by the police >> a fault lines special investigation >> there's a general distrust of this prosecutor >> courageous and in depth... >> it's a target you can't get
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rid of... >> the untold story... >> who do you protect? >> ...of what's really going on in ferguson >> they were so angry because it could have been them >> fault lines ferguson: race and justice in the u.s. one hour special only on al jazeera america today on "talk to al jazeera." the actor thafng ethan hawke. >> you can make of the truth what you will. we make big moments define our life. the romantic moments happen on a bus ride. you can't anticipate. >> the coming of divorce and being a father.