Inside Appalachia: Living with Industrial Spills, Floods and Disasters


Earlier this month in West Virginia, a CSX train derailed, causing giant fireballs to stretch hundreds of feet into the air and one home to be destroyed. Investigators are trying to figure out what happened to cause this derailment. February also marks the anniversary of other industrial accidents. On this episode, we’ll hear from folks who have survived them, and hear why many people are concerned that more of these accidents could happen in the future.

Buffalo Creek Disaster Remembered

February 26 marked the 43rd anniversary of the Buffalo Creek Disaster in Logan County, West Virginia. The disaster occurred when the dam to a coal slurry impoundment owned by the Pittson Coal Company broke, unleashing approximately 132,000,000 gallons of black waster water down into the hollers of Buffalo Creek, killing 125 people. In this show, we hear an excerpt from a 1975 film called  The Buffalo Creek Flood: An Act of Man, by Mimi Pickering and Appalshop.


Credit e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / via Earl Benton
via Earl Benton

W.Va. Train Carrying Bakken Crude Oil Derails

On Feb 16th during a fierce snowstorm, 1,000 residents in Fayette County, West Virginia were evacuated from their homes after a train carrying crude oil derailed.

When the train derailed, it started an intense fire that destroyed the home of 68-year-old Morris Bounds. His neighbor, Kristi Halstead, was home, just a few hundred feet from the accident site

“It was like being in hell. If you’ve never seen – it was like, the flames were just – it’s just like you were right there in it. They were just as red as they could be.”

Halstead and her neighbors were evacuated from their community amid a heavy snowfall.

Eighty-five-year old Edie Bostic was another resident who was evacuated. She recalls that she was at home, just after lunch when the Kanawha river caught fire.

“My name is Edie Bostic, from Boomer, and straight across the river is where the fire took place. Well I heard a boom, but I heard a shake of my house. So about that time my neighbor called me. She said, ‘Edie, there’s a fire across the river, straight across the river. Come out!’  So I went out to see, and sure enough there was a fire, boom way up into the air went the boom.”

Edie Bostic left her home Monday afternoon and went to stay with daughter and son in law in the nearby community of Montgomery.

The Division of Homeland Security says that all of the residents who were evacuated are now back into their homes. Each of the train cars that caught fire were carrying nearly 30,000 gallons of Brakken crude oilThis is an unrefined, hazardous oil that comes from the Bakken Shale in South Dakota. This liquid oil is extremely flammable and volatile.

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection is conducting water and air quality tests. So far, they say there is no concern for public health.

This accident comes on the heels of a series of multiple train disasters involving the transportation of Bakken Crude Oil. The most recent example is another train derailment that occurred last April in Lynchburg, Virginia. The National Transportation of Safety Board has been investigating that incident, and the findings of that report aren’t expected until this summer. But just this past week, CSX was fined more than $360,000 for the incident, following a year long investigation by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.


Credit Office of Governor Earl Ray Tomblin
Several of the train cars carrying bakken crude oil caught fire after derailing in West Virgnia.

Trains hauling Bakken crude oil have also been involved in major accidents in North Dakota, Oklahoma, Alabama. In 2013 an explosive derailment in Quebec, Canada killed 47 people. Bakken Crude Oil is a relatively new product- a result of a modern day oil rush in North Dakota and Montana. The oil is being transported across the country so it can reach refineries along the East Coast and the Gulf Coast.

Dave Mistich of West Virginia Public Broadcasting has been following the story of the most recent derailment in West Virginia. In this episode, host Jessica Lilly talks with Mistich about the latest updates on this incident.

Which Appalachian Waters Rank Among the World’s Best Tasting Water?


Credit photo by Cecelia Mason
Bottled water display at the Berkley Springs International Water Tasting & Competition

Appalachia is no stranger to industrial or environmental disasters that affect our water. Because of crumbling water infrastructure in many coalfield communities, folks often turn to bottled water for regular use.

But not all bottled water is equal. At least that’s according to judges at the 25th annual Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting Competition. There, the taste of bottled water, purified water, and municipal city waters from across the world were judged.

The Competition judges bottled water and municipal water, and guess which city won the best tasting water in the world, back in 1991, and 1993, 1994? Charleston West Virginia.

Yes, that same water, which last year became notorious across the globe for its poisonous taste of liquorice-infused MCHM– that water previously won gold medals at the International Water Tasting Competition.

This year, Lesage Natural Water from Cabell County, West Virginia won the fourth place award for a new category: best purified water.

Another Appalachian winner this year was Halstead Spring Water in East Tennessee. They won 3rd place for the world’s best bottled water. In 2000, Halstead Spring won the gold medal at the Berkley Springs Competition. Halstead Spring’s owner, John Beitz, says that their water business is booming, and they’re looking to expand and hire about one or two new full time employees in the next year.

Shop Students Prepare for Green Energy Jobs

In a Pennsylvania steel mill community that has seen increasing job loss, high school students are learning a new trade. In shop class, they’re building solar panels and hydro and wind generators. Erika Beras of WESA reports that teachers are hoping this will prepare some of the students for the green jobs of the future. 

What’s in a Name?

Many Appalachian towns and rivers get their names from Native Americans who first lived throughout these woodland hills. Today we’re looking at a town that has been in the news a lot lately- it’s a town that gets its name from a Native American people that left behind structures that remain somewhat of a mystery still today. What’s the town’s name and what is the history behind its early inhabitants? Listen to the show to hear the answer.

Coal Ash Spill, One Year Later

Volunteers with the Dan River Basin Association, graduate students from Duke University and staff with the environmental group Appalachian Voices collect water samples on the Dan River after a massive coal ash spill.
Credit Eric Chance / Appalachian Voices

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February 2nd marked the anniversary of the Dan River Coal Ash Spill in North Carolina. WUNC’s Dave DeWitt looks back at what happened, and some possible solutions that might prevent these types of disasters in the future. Last week, federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against Duke Energy for its involvement in that spill.


Credit Goldman Environmental Prize
Goldman Environmental Prize

Remembering Appalachian Activist Judy Bonds

It’s disasters like Buffalo Creek and Dan River that fueled one woman to become an environmentalist. Julia Belle Thompson Bonds, known as Judy, passed away back in 2012. She was known to some as a trouble-maker, but to others as an Appalachian hero for a better tomorrow. She was passionate about protesting mountaintop removal along Coal River in West Virginia – and across the county. But perhaps her most publicized protests were against mining activity around Marsh Fork Elementary

Music in today’s show was provided by Ben Townsend, Andy Agnew Jr., Billy Goat Gruff, James Reams, Jack Wright and Marteka and William.

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