The next time you pour yourself a glass of water, spare a thought for Jimmy Hall and his neighbors. Jimmy is the fifth-generation Hall to own property on Mill Creek in Letcher County, Kentucky. He has deep roots in coal country. Back in the late 1800s, his great-great-great grandfather's homestead included an entire mountain range, but mountaintop-removal coal mining has turned his family's special place into a moonscape.
Then the Water Department called.
"'Don't drink the water,' is what they told us," says Jimmy. "They found arsenic and lead from nearby mining operations in my well water. It's not just me -- my neighbors have the same problem. Many of them are chronically ill, and some have died."
Unfortunately, that's not unusual in eastern Kentucky, where rubble and toxic waste from mountaintop-removal coal mining frequently contaminate streams and valleys. In all of Appalachia, mountaintop-removal mining has already damaged or destroyed nearly 2,000 miles of streams. In just the past two decades, more than 500 mountains in Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, western Virginia, and Maryland have been leveled. At the current pace, 1.4 million acres of forests and mountaintops could be destroyed by the end of this decade. Gone forever.