All Sides Mum on $35M West Virginia Slurry Deal

October 3, 2011

Lawyers, plaintiffs and others are remaining quiet about a $35 million settlement with hundreds of people who say a Massey Energy subsidiary poisoned their wells with coal slurry.

More than 300 people gathered at the Kanawha County Courthouse this week to discuss the settlement reached July 27 with Rawl Sales & Processing. Members of the public not involved in the case were prohibited from attending the meeting of the mass litigation panel.

“It is a confidential settlement. And the hearings are confidential,” Supreme Court spokeswoman Jennifer Bundy said.

Ohio County Circuit Judge James P. Mazzone, who heads the panel of judges presiding over the case, filed an order Sept. 14 stating that the settlement would “not be subject to distribution beyond the (mass litigation) panel and all information regarding the terms of the settlement agreement will remain strictly confidential.”

The Charleston Gazette reports that a coal slurry plant operated by Rawl Sales & Processing pumped about 1.4 billion gallons of polluted fluids into abandoned underground mines in Mingo County between 1978 and 1987. Coal slurry is created by washing coal, after it comes out of a mine, to help it burn cleaner.

More than 350 lawsuits that were filed claimed toxic slurry waters leaked out of abandoned mines and polluted water in aquifers and wells.

Plaintiffs claim the polluted waters caused health problems, including chronic gastrointestinal disorders, skin cancers and major organ cancers. Many also alleged that they have suffered developmental disorders and learning disabilities from exposure to lead and other toxins when they were children.

Massey Energy previously paid $5 million to finance a medical monitoring fund for people filing the lawsuits. Most of them live in the towns of Rawl, Lick Creek, Merrimac and Sprigg in Mingo County.

Massey is now owned by Virginia-based Alpha Natural Resources, which bought the company in June for $7.1 billion.

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