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The Associated Press March 21, 2012, 11:08AM ET

Film focuses on W.Va. coal slurry pollution battle

An independent documentary chronicling the fight that hundreds of southern West Virginia residents waged against Massey Energy over polluted well water will be screened for the first time at the Atlanta Film Festival in Georgia.

"Coal Rush," which premieres March 29 at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema, was five years in the making. Co-directors Lorena Luciano and Filippo Piscopo say it deals with some of America's most pressing social and environmental issues, documenting the struggles of residents in the Mingo County communities of Rawl, Lick Creek, Merrimac and Sprigg.

Their 7-year-long lawsuit was ultimately settled last summer for $35 million. The terms were supposed to be confidential, but The Associated Press obtained a letter sent to the plaintiffs and reported its contents.

The letter said Massey had offered $35 million besides the $5 million it had previously agreed to put into a fund to cover medical testing.

A judge approved the settlement in December, but residents say they are still waiting for their checks as lawyers wrangle over the details of the payouts in court. A hearing was held last week, but the judges handling the case have sealed the documents and ordered attorneys not to discuss the case.

Massey, now owned by Virginia-based Alpha Natural Resources, was accused of destroying the residents' groundwater supplies and poisoning their wells by pumping 1.4 billion gallons of toxic coal slurry into worked-out underground mines between 1978 and 1987.

Slurry is created when coal is washed to help it burn more cleanly. The residents say it seeped out of the old mine workings and into their aquifer, turning their well water varying shades of red, brown and black, and causing ailments ranging from learning disabilities to cancer.

The plaintiffs are now mostly served by a public water system but believe chronic exposure to metals and chemicals are to blame for birth defects and other health problems.



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