Associated Press: For hundreds, lawsuit over coal slurry unresolved.

Eighteen months ago, Christina Doyle packed up her two kids for an eight-hour journey to a West Virginia courthouse, hoping for some resolution to a lawsuit over water pollution she believes caused her daughter’s learning disabilities and slow growth.

This weekend, the 32-year-old who now lives in South Carolina is doing it again. And so will hundreds of others who believe Virginia-based Massey Energy Co. and subsidiary Rawl Sales & Processing have poisoned their water wells with 1.4 billion gallons of toxic coal slurry.

The company has denied wrongdoing, though residents say the proof flows from their faucets as red, orange or black water. They say the chemicals in slurry have left them and their children with developmental disabilities, cancers and other maladies.

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The current and former residents of Rawl, Lick Creek, Sprigg and Merrimac are suing Massey for injecting slurry into 1,000 acres of former underground mines between 1978 and 1987. Slurry is created when coal is washed to help it burn more efficiently.

* * *  The company has defended the practice in court documents, arguing mineral rights agreements dating to 1889 give it “the full right to take and use all water found on the premises.”

For decades, coal companies in Appalachia have injected slurry into worked-out mines as a cheap alternative to dams and other systems that can safely store or treat the slurry. The industry says the practice is safe, but critics contend slurry seeps through natural and manmade cracks, eventually contaminating groundwater.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has imposed a temporary ban on new injection sites. Earlier this year, a team of West Virginia University researchers advised lawmakers to start monitoring coal slurry, even though they could not conclusively demonstrate a hazard to public health.

They also claim Massey drilled 40 more holes than it was permitted, pumping water out to relieve pressure and to make room for more waste. That waste came within feet of their homes, and the lawsuit says tests show the slurry “ripples and bubbles through the system in varying degrees, from highly toxic to simply toxic.”

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All Christina Doyle wants is what’s best for her daughter, whose monthly drugs and daily hormone injections would cost more than $3,000 without insurance. Savannah was born without a pituitary gland, which is in the brain and regulates the body’s growth hormones.

The injections cause “horrible mood swings” that make a teenage girl’s life even more difficult. Savannah struggles with homework and cannot have children, said Doyle, who was raised in Lick Creek and lived there while pregnant with her daughter.

Despite Savannah’s problems, she made local news last year when she plunged into a pond to save a drowning 3-year-old neighbor.

Still, Doyle says she’s long been told by specialists that genetics can’t account for her daughter’s poor health.

“I did not do drugs. I did everything right. I took prenatal vitamins,” Doyle says. “I can’t think of anything else it could have been but the water.”

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