Front Porch Blog

App Voices Joins Forces with Rawl Residents for Waterline

“At least one hundred of these folks are too sick or too old or they don’t have a car to come pick up the water themselves,” said Billy Sammons of Lick Creek, “so we deliver it. It’s what we have to do if our neighbors are going to have water.”

This is happening in our United States of America, right on the Kentucky-West Virginia border, and in coal towns throughout the central and Southern Appalachians.

Near Williamson, WV, in the communities of Rawl, Sprigg, Merrimac and Lick Creek, residents claim they have had problems with their water for the past ten years. Many have liver and kidney problems, various forms of cancer and skin rashes— health problems associated with long-term exposure to high levels of arsenic, lead, manganese, selenium, and other toxins which scientists have found in residents’ well water.

As many are doubtful that the state funds will be enough to sustain the communities until the water lines are laid, assistance is also coming from out of state. Adam Wells, an intern at Appalachian Voices in Boone, North Carolina, and other students at Appalachian State University have raised money to provide residents near Williamson with emergency drinking water.

Adam has been busting his butt on this. We are looking for donations to match the $600 that we’ve raised. If you can find it in your heart and wallet to help these people – {encode=”aw58461@appstate.edu” title=”email Adam”}

The activism and organization of these people is phenomenal. They have been working for over a decade just to get clean water to bathe their children in.

This past legislative session, people began speaking at the state capital and addressing their representatives. With the support of the Sludge Safety Project, people were successful in raising awareness of the situation and bringing attention to the dangerous life-threatening effects of coal sludge, which is what some residents believe has contaminated their groundwater. Residents have also been educating their neighbors about the effects of the contamination on their health. Women put together a community newsletter to raise awareness about the problem and encourage their neighbors to get involved.

Because of residents’ efforts to address their politicians, emergency funding of $15,000 came from the Governor’s Contingency Fund to provide 250 families in the area with emergency supply of drinking water. Pallets of bottled water have been delivered every week since then to the Church of God in Jesus’ Name Church in Rawl where residents pick up their ration of drinking water. A few in the communities have taken on the responsibility of delivering the water to homes where residents are unable to pick up the water themselves.

According to Sammons, families have been given between 12 to 24 gallons of water every week, depending on the week. That is supposed to be enough water for families to drink and to cook with.

The WV office of Abandoned Mine Lands allocated funds last year to help extend water lines from the city of Williamson to these families. Bids on the project were due November of 2005, but all were over budget, so the AML extended the deadline. Another call for bids was put out with a deadline in March of this year, with the same problem- bids were over budget. Yet another call for bids has been put out with a deadline of April 18th.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” said preacher Larry Brown, echoing the sentiments of other residents in the area who have been trying to get clean water.

In the meantime, folks have no choice but to go against the advice of researchers and use the water for bathing, along with cooking and drinking when the rations are not enough

Debbie Sammons and other mothers in the area are concerned about the impact of the vapors from the water. “If this water is corroding the inside of our homes and our plumbing, what is it doing to our bodies and our lungs?”

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