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in West Virginia, pays attention to what happens when coal companies level mountaintops to access increasingly stubborn coal seams. The Bush administration, working through the Department of the Interior, helped reclassify mountaintop removal debris as “fill” rather than “waste.” As a result, the stuff is allowed to sit in piles without treatment or proper disposal. The problem with this seemingly innocuous reclassification is that the “fill” leaches acid and heavy metals into the water supply. Compounding the problem is the issue of coal slurry impoundments. West Virginia has 135. Executives seem to have forgotten that back in 1972, a slurry impoundment broke, flooded a hollow, and killed 125 people. They also seemed to have forgotten that one of the state’s biggest slurry dams sits directly above an elementary school. Or, given their indifference to regulating these slurries, it’s more likely that the companies”who see the world as a spreadsheet to conquer”just don’t care. Vast lakes of black water thus also go unregulated, leaking lead, arsenic, beryllium, and selenium into local drinking water. One result of this mess is the emergence of new mines, operations that take advantage of lack of oversight to engage in environmentally irresponsible behavior to enrich shareholders. At the rate at which mines are opening in West Virginia, a Rhode Island-sized chunk of the state will, in 10 years, be directly affected by mountaintop-removal mining. Another result, of course, is a slew of health issues that are gruesomely confirmed by local doctors, who find direct correlations among slurry impoundments, “fills,” and health problems like thyroid cancer, kidney stones, and birth defects. The choice here seems clear to anyone with even the stickiest moral compass. But guess who’s stuffing the pols’ pockets with re-election cash? And guess who’s providing the entire mining town with free Christmas turkeys? Don’t feel safe, though, because you don’t live in Appalachia, or because your state rep has his hands in some other executive’s pants for some other perverted cause. The chattering culinarians, you may have heard, are talking mercury, and mercury knows no bounds. Mercuryladen. fish have been a big topic lately in the Times, Consumer Reports, and other national media outlets. Goodell, in one of the book’s best sections, links the issue of mercury in fish to coal.. Turns out that American coal plants churn out 48 tons of mercury every year. Thirty percent falls to ground like a thin layer of black snow. That is, 32,000 pounds of mercury goes from American coal plants directly into the soil and water, where it settles and accumulates. In water mercury is eaten by tiny fish. The tiny fish get eaten by tuna. The tuna gets eaten by us. We’re not talking rocket science here. Again, this is not the first time the world has confronted the specter of mercury-laden fish, Minamata., Japan, in the 1950s also had a. tragic fish story to tell. In the late 1930s the Chisso Corp., a company that manufactured acetaldeJUNE 30, 2006 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 25