Pages tagged "health"

Environmental Injustice in Alberta


In late June, a team of RAN staff travelled to Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada to participate in the Tar Sands Healing Walk, which is organized and hosted by members of the local First Nations Communities. Walking amidst the tar sands destruction was a humbling and powerful experience.

This blog post is one of a series, sharing our impressions and reflections.

Todd's previous post was "Industry's Dreams, Indigenous Nightmares: A Visit to the Alberta Tar Sands"

We left the tar sands boomtown of Fort McMurray via Highway 63, a notoriously dangerous road we were warned was trafficked by huge trucks hauling mining machinery and by oil workers cutting loose on their time off. Fortunately, we traveled the short distance to the Tar Sands Healing Walk camp without incident. We joined the healing walk encampment, a collection of tents and teepees along the beautiful Gregoire Lake, and were hosted by Keepers of the Athabasca, a network of Indigenous First Nations groups.

The natural beauty of Alberta is striking, and deceptive. At first glance, the land looks unspoiled, with thick stands of white-barked birch, a big sky, and the placid waters of Gregoire Lake. Tragically, the idyllic façade belies profound contamination: the air, waters, animals, and people of Alberta are poisoned. This reality was quickly hammered home in the Tars Sands Healing Walk camp. Drinking water for the gathering of several hundred had been pumped from a residence at nearby Fort Chipewyan, and the water reeked of methane gas. Apparently, some of the well-intentioned visitors in attendance helpfully pointed this out to the community hosts, prompting a sobering announcement from the stage: "People are complaining about the water smelling of methane. This is what people drink here. There is no other water." Later the same day, Annette Campre from Fort McKay First Nation told the crowd that she has been using bottled water to bathe her children for years. The Athabasca River flows north through the tar sands mines, carrying contaminants away from major population centers and toward Fort Chipewyan, a community of Chipewyan, Cree, and Metis First Nations people. One suspects that the intense water contamination visited on Fort Chipewyan would not be permitted if the river of pollutants flowed south from the tar sands into the Canadian cities of Edmonton and Calgary.

The consequences of tar sands mining contaminants are disproportionately borne by First Nations communities, like Fort Chipewyan, a tiny town with a hugely anomalous incidence of rare and aggressive cancers, like bile-duct cancer. At the Tar Sands Healing Walk encampment, we heard from Dr. John O’Connor, the fly-in doctor for Fort Chipewyan and early whistleblower on the abnormally high incidence of cancers in the region. Dr. O’Connor recounted efforts by industry and government to discredit his first-hand observances, which have been borne out in a recent study that found that 21.3% of surveyed First Nations persons displayed evidence of cancer. The study also reported "that cancer occurrence is significantly and positively associated with participant employment in the Oil Sands as well as the consumption of traditional foods and locally caught fish."

The cancer epidemic faced by First Nations communities in the Alberta Tar Sands region are appalling, but the damage inflicted by tar sands mining on Canada's original people goes deeper. The same recent study documented "elevated levels of the environmental contaminants arsenic, cadmium, mercury and selenium, as well as PAHs (some carcinogenic) in the foods traditionally harvested by the First Nations in the region." Translation: the game that Indigenous people rely on in Alberta is ridden with toxins. For First Nations people, this has much deeper implications than the simple right to uncontaminated food stocks. As I learned at the Tar Sands Healing Walk, many of the important ceremonial and spiritual practices of Alberta's First Nations rely on traditional relationships with game, including hunting and the consumption of this meat. Tar sands developments threaten local species like the caribou with extinction, and are poisoning fish and game stocks. For First Nations communities, the contamination and degradation of the land is an existential threat; if First Nations people are unable to pass on traditional knowledge and practice, their culture and spiritual practice is destroyed. As we learned at the Tars Sands Healing Walk, the continued development of the Albertan tar sands is a perpetuation of cultural genocide by settler culture.

So what is to be done about this? Tune in next week for a final post—“Resistance: what do we do about the tar sands?”

Image: Chipewyan drummers lead the Tar Sands Healing walk. The Chipewyan culture is directly threatened by tar sands mining.

Bank of America and Drummond Coal in Colombia

This blog post has been updated.

This month, Rainforest Action Network and three allies testified at Bank of America's annual shareholder meeting, urging them to drop coal, to stop profiting from environmental destruction and human rights abuses. We're posting the statements of our three allies. Add your voice by telling Bank of America to stop funding coal—and come clean on climate change

My name is Santiago Piñeros. I was born in Bogotá, Colombia, and I work with Pensamiento y Acción Social (Thought and Social Action), an NGO that assists communities affected by large-scale mining in the center of the Cesar region in Colombia. I have had the opportunity to see how Drummond LTD operates in these areas, a multinational company in which Bank of America invests millions of dollars to develop its extractive coal and gas business.

Three towns located in the middle of the Cesar region—El Hatillo, community we assist, Plan Bonito, and Boquerón, communities we follow up—have to be resettled by Drummond, Glencore-Xstrata and a Goldman Sachs mining company. These resettlements were ordered by the Colombian government, due to the high levels of air pollution and dust from the coal mines. These communities should have been relocated two years ago because of the dangers that coal ash poses to people's health, including respiratory diseases, such as lung cancer, skin and ocular diseases. Thus, Drummond is currently co responsible for three involuntary resettlement processes due to air pollution in El Cesar Region.1 These communities must be resettled quickly, and Drummond's investors, including Bank of America, need to make sure this happens.

Drummond directly contaminates groundwater and rivers where these communities make their livelihoods.2 Activities such as fishing, hunting, territorial and cultural relations with the environment have deteriorated and are often no longer possible due to the contamination. For communities that rely on fishing and hunting for survival, the destruction of the environment means the destruction of the community.3 For these facts, the environmental damages in this region become a violation of the human rights of these communities and so creates an obligation for its investors—you—to commit to recognize the value of the human rights of these poor rural communities, communities that are threatened with simply disappearing. Bank of America has an obligation to protect these communities.

Bank of America invests today in a company that does not respect environmental standards. According to the environmental authorities Drummond recently spilled around 1,800 tons of coal into the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Colombia. This disaster happened because Drummond chose not to implement required changes to the system of directly loading coal at port, which would have prevented these accidents.4 Pollution levels at Drummond coal mines exceed the levels permitted by law in Colombia, and they are steadily increasing.5 The pollution is affecting human health. Still, Drummond only responds to sanctions if they impact the company's ability to export coal.

Bank of America finances Drummond's coal operation and so is co responsible for Drummond, a company that operates with no due diligence regarding human, economic and cultural rights. According to the most recent study of the Contraloría General, Drummond's operations, and thus Bank of America's investments, do not guarantee a healthy life and environment, these operations only make a profit from our natural resources.6 Who holds the accounts where these profits are stashed? Bank of America.

Are these environmental and human rights abuses something you recognize? What responsibility do you have for these events? Your money is being used to fund mining operations that do not represent social, environmental and economic benefits for the communities living in the surroundings of the mines. In fact, the levels of unsatisfied basic necessities in these communities increase as sanctions and fines while the resettlements do not seem to advance.


1. Resolution No. 9070 of 2010 and Resolution No. 1525 of 2010 from the Colombian Ministry of Environment, Housing and Development (MAVDT).
2. Contraloría General de la Nación. Minería en Colombia I: Derechos, políticas públicas y gobernanza. // Minería en Colombia II: Institucionalidad y territorio, paradojas y conflictos. 2013.
3. Resolution No. 54 of 2008 from the Defensoría del Pueblo de Colombia.
4. Resolution No. 0123 of 2013 and Resolution No. 001 of 2014 from the National Authority of Environmental Licenses (ANLA).
5. Resolution No. 9070 of 2010 and Resolution No. 1525 of 2010 from the Colombian Ministry of Environment, Housing and Development (MAVDT).
6. Contraloría General de la Nación. Minería en Colombia I: Derechos, políticas públicas y gobernanza. // Minería en Colombia II: Institucionalidad y territorio, paradojas y conflictos. 2013.

Mountains, Water and Community

Last week, Rainforest Action Network and three allies testified at Bank of America's annual shareholder meeting, urging them to drop coal, to stop profiting from environmental destruction and human rights abuses. In the next two weeks, we'll be posting the statements of our three allies. Add your voice by telling Bank of America to stop funding coal --  and come clean on climate change

My name is Elise Keaton. I am the Executive Director of the Keeper of the Mountains Foundation and I am from southern West Virginia. I currently live in Charleston, West Virginia. I am here today to ask you to please stop financing the destruction of our mountains, our water and my community.

On January 9 of this year, I came home from work, poured a big glass of water from my tap and drank it. As soon as I set my glass down I received a text message from my landlord stating, “Don’t drink the water! There has been a chemical leak!

Over the next hours, I experienced acute symptoms from exposure to the coal-processing chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM), including irritated eyes, nose and throat, nausea, and stomach cramps. If the spill had been immediately lethal, I thought, the authorities would have sounded the chemical valley alarms. So I monitored my symptoms and concluded that I did not need to go to the emergency room that night. I figured that the next day, we would know more about what had happened.

What we learned over the next week was that a Freedom Industries facility storing coal-processing chemicals leaked MCHM into the Elk River, contaminating the drinking water for 300,000 households. The first question a thinking human being should ask is, “Why are 300,000 households, spread across nine counties in a rural state like West Virginia on a single water source in the city of Charleston?” MTRQuote_720x720

The answer is: their local water sources have already been compromised by the mining industry. Their streams and springs have been destroyed or buried by mountaintop removal. Their wells have been compromised by blasting or polluted by coal slurry injections.

And instead of addressing the sources of this pollution, the political-industrial establishment in West Virginia decided that your quarterly profits were more important than clean water for our communities and they answered that loss of water by extending the municipal water source further and further out into those counties.

Four months later, we still lack access to guaranteed safe drinking water in West Virginia. Our esteemed congresspeople have insisted that they are drinking the water. But no public health official has declared the water safe to drink.

I am 34 years old and I am getting married this summer. I've waited a long time to start my family. Now, I have postponed my plans to have children indefinitely because no one can tell me the impact MCHM may have had on me and my reproductive ability.

I am here today to ask you to please stop financing the destruction of our mountains, our water and my community. The minuscule profits you received as a result of mountaintop removal mining are incomparable to the catastrophic damage caused by the practice. It is killing us.

More than 20 peer-reviewed health studies have shown that living near mountaintop removal sites is deadly for the people of Appalachia. Please stop financing the destruction of our mountains, our water and my community.

I will close with this: when you remove coal by blowing up a mountain to extract it you have destroyed a “water maker” for the equivalent of one hour’s worth of electricity for the United States. Let me repeat that. When you extract coal by mountaintop removal you kill a resource that will make water forever -- for the equivalent of one hour’s worth of energy for the U.S. How is that a good investment?

As shareholders of one of the largest financial institutions in the world, you are savvy investors and business minded individuals. How is destroying the mountains that create clean water for a very small, short term financial benefit a good investment? Please stop financing the destruction of our mountains, our water and our communities. Your profits from mountaintop removal mean death for us.

Thank you.

Stand with Elise and RAN by telling Bank of America to stop funding coal --  and come clean on climate change

Dump Now, Pay Later: Coal Risk Update on Coal Ash

LBR photo three, from air, Oct 23 2011 Each year, the U.S. coal-fired power plant fleet produces over 130 million tons of coal ash. And while this ash frequently contains arsenic, lead, mercury, and other toxic chemicals that threaten human health, it is less regulated than your household trash. For decades, power plants have disposed of coal ash in over 2,000 landfills and holding ponds around the country. These ponds and landfills can leach contaminants into groundwater and have even ruptured without warning, causing catastrophic ash spills. Today, RAN published a new Coal Risk Update which looks at the growing legal, regulatory, and financial risks facing electric power producers from the disposal of coal ash in landfills and holding ponds. Although coal ash is not currently regulated on the federal level, people living near coal ash ponds and landfills have filed several lawsuits that have forced power plant operators to clean up groundwater contamination from coal ash. This January, a major plaintiff litigation firm filed several lawsuits against the Southern Company, alleging that it engaged in racketeering, battery, fraud, and negligence by failing to put a lining on its 750-acre coal ash pond. For U.S. electric power producers, coal ash ponds and landfills are likely to cause environmental compliance and legal headaches for decades to come. While coal ash is not currently regulated on the federal level, forthcoming EPA regulations are likely to force power plants to close coal ash ponds that lack a bottom lining and invest in costly ash handling upgrades at power plants. Using EPA disclosures and data obtained by the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice through a Freedom of Information Act request, we were able to rank U.S. electric power producers by their exposure to coal ash pond failure risk and groundwater contamination risk: top 5 grid To date, the investor-owned electric power producers that rank highly on these lists have disclosed very little information about how they are managing coal ash-related risks. At companies that lack plans for closing or remediating ash ponds and landfills, impacted communities will bear the costs of ongoing contamination and the risks of catastrophic pond failures. This lack of transparency also leaves investors in these companies—who are ultimately on the hook for legal battles and coal ash cleanup projects—in the dark about coal ash-related risks.   (Image of the Little Blue Run coal ash pond courtesy Robert Donnan/Environmental Integrity Project)

Tell Banks to Stop Financing the Destruction of Blair Mountain

[caption id="attachment_20559" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Blair Mountain, West Virginia"][/caption] A Guest Blog by Brandon Nida, Organizer—Blair Mountain Heritage Alliance Many people have not heard of the Battle of Blair Mountain, let alone a place called Adkins Fork in Logan County, West Virginia. But in 1921, the Adkins Fork area was the scene of an intense battle between miners attempting to organize and a private army trying to stop them. It is part of the larger Blair Mountain battlefield that stretches 14-miles along Spruce Fork Ridge, the site of the largest labor battle in US history. Ten thousand miners fought for five days against the private army entrenched on the ridgeline, with both sides having high-powered rifles and machine guns. Three regiments of federal troops sent by President Harding were finally able to halt the conflict. Currently Adkins Fork and the larger Blair Mountain battlefield is threatened by an extremely destructive form of coal mining called mountaintop removal (MTR). This is a process where mountains are blasted and a huge amount of leftover material is pushed into valleys, filling them up and creating a flat moonscape where rolling hills and hardwood forest once were. MTR is a process that in recent years has increasingly been tied to health problems such as rare forms of cancer, respiratory illnesses, and birth defects. At the foot of Blair Mountain is the town of Blair, where I live and work. In the late 1990s, Blair was a community of about 700 people, and currently there are only about 70 residents left. Aggressive buyouts preceded plans to MTR mine around the town and led to the systematic depopulation of the area. The people who remained had to live with constant blasting behind the town, carcinogenic dust rolling off the site, and the contamination of drinking water with heavy metals. But people from Blair were some of the first coalfield residents to speak out against MTR, something that is hard to do in central Appalachia where the coal industry dominates the social and political landscape. Currently we are fending off six different permits that would impact the battlefield and the communities around it. Our biggest struggle is with the Adkins Fork permit, which is situated in the heart of the battlefield and right above the headwaters of the town of Blair. The Adkins Fork permit is currently up for renewal, and we have mounted a major campaign to block this permit. This campaign will be a tough one and will continue over the next few months. The Adkins Fork permit, which is being sought by Arch Coal, is symbolic of the increasing risk that investors and banks are taking by investing in companies (like Arch Coal) that have MTR operations. It is a permit that has multiple deficiencies, and is being contested by a wide range of concerned citizens, including: community members, retired coal miners, archaeologists, labor groups, environmentalists, and others across central Appalachia and the rest of the nation. If Arch Coal is able to proceed with the Adkins Fork permit, they would destroy one of the only areas we know for certain was occupied by the miners during the Battle. Along with this permit, there are currently 17,000 acres permitted or under review for the Spruce Fork watershed. It is comprised of geological strata high in selenium. Selenium is a bio-accumulative compound that is highly detrimental to the nervous system of animals and humans, and is extremely expensive to contain or remove from the ecosystems once it is released. This small compound is one of the reasons Patriot Coal, a major operator of MTR mining in Central Appalachia, was forced to publicly halt all MTR operations just last month. Streams in the Spruce Fork watershed have already been shown to have higher amounts of selenium than regulation allows. [caption id="attachment_20595" align="alignright" width="300" caption="MTR on Blair Mountain"][/caption] In addition to Arch Coal seeking a permit that has a wide coalition of people opposing it and which has high levels of selenium, the risk investors take when putting their money into companies like Arch continues to increase. The West Virginia State Historic Preservation Office refuses to sign off on this permit due to the destruction of major archaeological resources. Valley fills, of which the Adkins Fork permit has three, have been coming under increasing scrutiny by federal regulators. With the stripping of thousands of acres of vegetation and topsoil, the risk of flooding becomes more prevalent.  As more peer-reviewed science shows the link between MTR and severe health problems, companies such as Arch are finding it harder to externalize these risks onto communities such as the town of Blair. For these reasons and more, those who continue to invest in companies like Arch that conduct strip mining operations such as the Adkins Fork permit take on increasing risk. Right now, Arch Coal’s stock is down to around seven dollars per share from a high of around 73 per share in 2008. Arch Coal’s credit rating is Ba3 sub-prime, just one level above where Patriot Coal (NYSE: PCX) was before going bankrupt. The Adkins Fork permit is just one permit by Arch Coal that would impact the town of Blair and the Blair Mountain battlefield. Companies such as Arch are attempting to destroy not just the environment, but whole communities, heritage, and people’s health. Citizen groups and environmental organizations have become more proficient in being able to challenge and block these permits. In fact, one of the only operations to have been halted in mid-operation was in Blair – the Daltex surface mine operated by Arch Coal. In addition, the Spruce No. 1 surface mine, which is the largest MTR mine ever permitted in central Appalachia and which sits on another ridge above Blair, has been the subject of intense litigation for over a decade. For those of you who would like to take part in stopping companies like Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources (ANR) from destroying the Blair Mountain battlefield and other mountains in central Appalachia, there are definite ways you can help and join in our efforts. Even if you live far away, we need you to take a stand and join in our Adkins Fork campaign and the larger efforts to preserve Blair Mountain and stop MTR. The first step is working in solidarity with a group of community members, organizers, retired coal miners, archaeologists, historians, environmentalists, and others who will be taking part in a public conference with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection this Thursday. While we attempt to show the WV DEP why this permit renewal should be denied, we need as many people as possible to circulate and sign our petition directed at the banks and investors who enable companies like Arch Coal to engage in these destructive operations. This is not just about one permit, or one mountain, or one community, but is symbolic of the larger problem of destructive practices such as MTR, and the increasingly reckless investment and financing of these types of operations. Take a stand today, and join our team. Tell banks and investors to stop financing the destruction of our homes and health. Stand with us and stay connected as we move through this national campaign. Only together can we stop destructive extractive processes such as MTR.   Brandon Nida is a native West Virginian who currently lives in Blair, WV. He is an organizer with the Blair Mountain Heritage Alliance, a board member of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, and a member of the United Auto Workers. He is currently finishing the doctorate program in Anthropology/Archaeology at UC Berkeley.

A Legal Setback for Clean Air and a New Chance to Fight Soot Pollution

Bad news for American hearts and lungs: Last week, a federal circuit court struck down a proposed EPA clean air standard that would have reduced dangerous emissions from coal-fired power plants and other sources. In a 2-1 decision, the court ruled that the EPA’s proposed Cross State Air Pollution Rule, or “Transport Rule” (PDF), exceeded the agency’s authority under the federal Clean Air Act. If enacted, the rule would have required states to reduce power plant emissions of sulfur and nitrogen oxides, which contribute to ozone and soot (a.k.a. particulate) pollution. These pollutants pose serious risks to heart and lung health, particularly for seniors, children, and individuals with asthma or heart conditions. According to the EPA’s estimates, the Transport Rule would have eliminated emissions responsible for 13,000 to 34,000 premature deaths, 15,000 nonfatal heart attacks, and 400,000 asthma attacks each year. Power plant upgrades and other compliance expenses associated with the rule would have cost $1.6 billion annually. In contrast, the rule would have resulted in annual health benefits of between $120 and $280 billion. As the Natural Resources Defense Council noted, if the circuit court’s decision holds up on appeal, it will result in years of delay for critical air quality standards. What You Can Do: Tell the EPA to Tighten Soot Standards While the court ruling on the Transport Rule was a setback for clean air, the EPA is considering another important rule change for airborne pollutants. The proposed change would tighten clean air standards for soot pollution. If adopted, the new standards would prevent 4,650-8,100 premature deaths annually and yield $2.3 billion to $5.9 billion in health benefits (with annual compliance costs of only $69 million). The EPA’s comment period for the rule ends this Friday, August 31st. Like the Transport Rule, this proposed change would protect the air, save lives, and avoid billions of dollars in health care costs. The coal industry and other heavy emitters have demonstrated that they will fight hard against air quality regulations, but a clear demonstration of public support for the change will put pressure on the EPA to set tough new standards to protect our health and the environment. Please take a few seconds to submit a comment to the EPA in support of stronger soot standards.

EPA Announces Powerful Air Pollution Safeguards: You Spoke and Lisa Jackson Listened

As the holidays draw near I'm raising a glass to all of you RAN activists, because—along with hundreds of thousands of clean air advocate allies—you stood up and asked the Environmental Protection Agency to protect our environment and our bodies from toxic pollutants. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced the first-ever Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) from Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. yesterday.  The long-awaited air pollution rule promises to prevent 34,000 deaths otherwise caused from toxic pollutants released from power plants including mercury, arsenic, cyanide, nickel, chromium, lead and more. In making the announcement, Administrator Jackson focused on children’s health issues, including cases of asthma (which her own son is battling), birth defects and impaired brain development caused by mercury in the air. The U.S. has been waiting a long time for this. It took more than two decades of negotiating and 900,000 public comments (20,000 from RAN activists), but the final MATS rule marks a great step forward for clean air in this country. The Obama administration has yielded mixed news on the environmental front all year, so it was cheering to hear a strong, bold announcement like this one be issued forth by the EPA despite Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski's attempts to instill fear in the heart of the public over the new standard's effect on energy reliability. Even after two decades of undulating process, Senator Murkowski called the pace of the EPA rulemaking “reckless” when in fact continuing to allow outdated coal plants to operate is much more so. EPA estimates show the new safeguards “will prevent as many as 11,000 premature deaths and 4,700 heart attacks a year. “ If the rule had been finalized ten years ago, would 111,000 people still be living, and 47,000 heart attacks prevented? The finalized rule will likely affect the future of about 40 percent of coal-fired power plants in the U.S., which operate substandard to the rule’s particulate pollution requirements. The utility companies operating these plants are weighing up the economics of retiring plants versus investing hundreds of millions of dollars in life-extending retrofits for the aging plants. We have a clear understanding of the negative impacts that burning coal has on our health, economy, and climate. With the solar and wind industries booming, we know how to produce electricity without endangering ourselves. As we head into 2012, it is well past time to phase out of coal entirely and transition to cleaner and renewable energy sources. If you'd like to be a part of that transition, joining RAN's campaign to shift the biggest U.S. banks away from coal financing and towards clean energy is a great place to start. Lisa Jackson concluded her press conference at the children's hospital with some hurdles the EPA encounters,  “If we started hiring engineers instead of lobbyists and scientists instead of lawyers, we [the EPA] would be able to do our job much faster for the American people.” I absolutely agree. [youtube Sx0vvn_Wn8o 550]

Wells Fargo Representing Massey Energy

[caption id="attachment_5207" align="alignright" width="150" caption="Miner campaigning for black lung safety and compensation"]Miner campaigning for black lung safety and compensation[/caption] My friend Chuck Nelson is a retired West Virginia underground coal miner. He works hard with Ohio Valley Environment Coalition to protect the beautiful mountains of West Virginia and to end mountaintop removal coal mining. I was very sad to received this message from him: “About a month ago, I went to take my Federal black lung test. I finally got my results back, which said that I had black lung, but I was not eligible for benefits, because I was not disabled because of my lungs. I guess one has to be on oxygen, or bed ridden, in order to qualify for benefits.“ Black lung – aka ‘Miner’s asthma’ is a lung disease contracted by breathing coal dust. Dust builds up inside the lungs, gradually reducing the miner’s ability to breathe. Chuck continues: “I was not surprised to see that Wells Fargo is the ones that represents Massey Energy as a third party legal assistant, assisting Massey. Just another example of how Massey is linked up with these financial institutions. So I made a call to a man named John T. Deneault, who really got upset , when I questioned him about his organization involvement with such a rogue outfit as Massey Energy, trying to beat a miner who has given his life to this industry.” “He got so mad, that he told me to never call him again.” Historically, West Virginia’s miners fought hard for their safety against black lung and for compensation after Nov 1968, when 78 miners died in an explosion in Consolidation Coal's No. 9 mine at Farmington, WV. In February 1969 they went on wildcat strike. By early March, nearly every mine in West Virginia was shut down. This led the state to pass a new law that, for the first time, strengthened safety rules and created compensation benefits for miners suffering pneumoconiosis from breathing coal dust. The federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act passed at the end of the same year. It’s a scandal that miner’s who have given their lives to the industry are being denied their rightful compensation. Chuck has a suggestion for us: “I think everyone who has the time, could call him and ask just why Wells Fargo are joining forces with Massey Energy, to continue to deprive workers of the things that they deserve, and have given their lives to.” “If anyone is interested, again his name is John T. Deneault, claims consultant for Wells Fargo. His number is 304-556-1105, and his e-mail is “Ask him why his company is on the side of depriving underground miners the rights that they have so rightfully deserve, and black lung is a horrible death. His office probably isn't open during the weekends.”

Forget the Black Gold, Just Clean Water Please

Chevron Protest, Lago Agrio EcuadorI’m sitting opposite the ‘Hotel Black Gold’ as the sun goes down over Lago Agrio and the streets start to hum with evening traffic, people returning home from work and families out walking together. It’s hard to believe that just a few short hours ago this street was filled with hundreds of indigenous people and peasant farmers loudly, passionately protesting Chevron’s (which became synonymous with Texaco when the two companies merged) continued refusal to clean up the toxic mess that they left behind almost twenty years ago. One man held a sign that said bluntly: “My family was killed by cancer, Texaco”. DSC_0389 As Chevron works overtime to complicate, undermine and even corrupt the trial that is very likely to find them guilty of health and environmental damages to the tune of $27 billion, the resistance of the affected people grows stronger and more determined. The crowd marched from three directions and converged on the courthouse, where a member of one of the Indigenous group approached the doors to ask if he and four spiritual elders could enter to perform a cleansing ceremony. DSC_0350The guard refused, saying (with a straight face and not a hint of irony) that it was impossible because the men would need to light tobacco and that might contaminate the inside of the courthouse. Undeterred, the elders from the Cofan, Siona and Secoya peoples performed their ceremony for the crowds on the street, grinding and drinking the bitter yoco root to give them all strength and renewed determination to fight Chevron. Walking in the streets with these people was powerful and achingly painful at the same time – almost all of them are living without access to clean drinking water and many of them can’t afford to buy bottled water. I watched as an elderly indigenous woman drank deeply from a plastic water bottle that had been handed to her by one of the Frente (the coalition of groups working to fight Chevron and represent the affected peoples), wondering when the last time was that she had quenched her thirst without poisoning her body. It sounds dramatic, but it is no word of exaggeration to say that these people are dying. The indigenous groups are losing the last of their land and livelihoods and the peasant farmers are barely surviving on land that is growing more and more toxic as oil from the waste pits leaches out into streams and rivers. Is there any doubt about this? I don’t think so. Just two nights earlier, I was sitting in the lounge of our hotel in Quito when a clean-cut American man came into the room and began to work on his computer. I asked him what his business in Ecuador was and he replied that he was just here for a visit to the Galapagos Islands. But as it turns out, Rick is a biophysical chemist, specializing in cancer research. So I inquired without telling him why I wanted to know: “is there any way that there is NO connection between long-term exposure to crude oil and cancer”. I expected to get some scientific prevarication, but Rick didn’t even pause, not for a second. “No way at all” he said. Are you listening Chevron? These people need something very simple – clean water, free from crude oil residue. Or they will die.

Could Chevron Have a Change of Heart?

Fabiola is a beautiful thirteen-year old girl with sparkling bright eyes and an infectious smile. As we approached her house in the village of Taracoa in Ecuador, she marched right over to us in her green t-shirt and rainbow flip flops, stuck out her hand in introduction – and shook each of ours vigorously. Her mother and grandmother followed more shyly, agreeing to sit and talk with us in the gathering dusk. This was day three of our trip to Ecuador to see first hand the impacts that Chevron’s oil extraction has had on the people and land here. Before I arrived in Ecuador, I read about the terrible health problems that settlers and indigenous people living in the oil-affected area are experiencing. I knew about the toxic oil pits and the constant gas flaring. I knew that people were sick. But I wasn’t prepared for Fabiola. Fabiola was born with her heart on the wrong side of her body and doctors said that she would never walk. She proved them wrong on that count, but she is tiny for her age and she and her mother have had to make endless trips to doctors, sometimes traveling for days, to try and diagnose her many illnesses. Fabiola’s grandmother moved to Taracoa twenty-three years ago, looking for land to farm. Texaco (now owned by Chevron) was already operating in the area, but the family didn’t know that the land they chose was right beside a toxic waste pit. Chevron oil waste pit in EcuadorThe oil company didn’t advertise the whereabouts of its disposal sites, and hundreds of people moved into the area to set up home, not realizing that they were settling in an area that was so profoundly polluted. Oil from the open waste pits has been seeping into groundwater and streams for decades, gradually contaminating all the potable water in an area the size of Rhode Island. Animals started to die and over time, people started falling sick at unusually high rates. Fabiola’s mother told us that she used to tend to the cows close by their house when she was pregnant with her daughter. Most days she would spend walking around the oil pit, and drinking water from the family’s well. It smelt like crude oil, and had a constant film of oil floating on the top, but it was their only source of water. Oil residue floats on top of stream used for drinking and washing in Ecuador.Chevron/Texaco for their part assured residents of the area that the crude oil was actually good for them, encouraging people to rub it on their skin to treat arthritis. To this day Chevron claims that there is no connection between exposure to crude oil and human illness, an assertion that would be laughable if the effects were not so tragic. Fabiola was born with severe birth defects just like many other children whose families live on the edge of Chevron’s oil sites. The company claims that they have cleaned up their mess, but one look at a ‘remediated site’ makes it abundantly clear that the so-called clean up is a cover up at best. There is very little that the residents of Taracoa can do to help the little ones like Fabiola who have already been so affected by Chevron’s legacy. Almost everyone buys their drinking and washing water these days, but money is scarce, and many can’t afford it. Their best hope of a long-terms solution lies in a court case that is being fought to hold the giant oil company accountable for cleaning up its mess once and for all, and for providing healthcare and clean water for all the many people who have suffered from Chevron/Texaco’s irresponsible waste dumping. The company has been fighting the case every step of the way. But I don’t think that any Chevron lawyer or executive who met Fabiola could fail to have a change of heart, and I hope with all of mine, that Chevron will ensure that hers is the last generation to suffer.

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