Coal Country Wrestles With Hazardous Water in West Virginia

The Takeaway

Click on the audio player above to hear this interview.

Prenter, West Virginia is a small community about 30 miles south of Charleston, the state's capitol.

Today, the majority of households in Prenter are on the municipal water supply coming out of the Elk River, but it wasn't always that way. 

In 2007, Jennifer Hall-Massey attended a community meeting for residents interested in municipal water. For the first time, people began to realize they had much more in common than just well water.

Six of Jennifer's neighbors in a ten house span had brain tumors, all but two have died, including Jennifer's younger brother. Dental problems, fertility issues, skin irritation, asthma, it didn't take long to connect the dots and discover toxic levels of chemical contaminants in the tap water. When asked to reflect on the string of illnesses in her family, Jennifer said: "Sometimes, when we're faced with illness, we're more focused on how to fix it, how to overcome it, and not necessarily the cause." 

The cause? Contaminated ponds. The local coal industry had used these natural bodies of water a dumping grounds, and toxins seeped into the groundwater. 

Here, Jennifer shares her story, and explains the financial hold the coal industry has on West Virginia.  

What you'll learn from this segment:

  • How contaminated water has impacted Jennifer's family. 
  • What the coal industry has said about the community's health problems.
  • The advice Jennifer has for residents of Flint, Michigan.