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Communities, Welcome to the Community of Sundial, West Virginia

An ill-constructed sludge dam threatens the lives of 230 children each school day.

Friday, October 19th, 2007


Marsh Fork Elementary School in Sundial, West Virginia is located directly below the 2.8 billion gallon (yes, with a B) Shumate sludge impoundment on Cherry Pond Mountain, secured by a 385 foot tall earthen dam. Operated by a coal company, this ill-constructed sludge dam is one of West Virginia’s largest and most dangerous, threatening the lives of 230 children each school day. According to a Mine Safety and Health Administration report, released under the Freedom of Information Act, this dam is leaking.

Should the earthen dam of the Shumate impoundment ever be breached, there would be less than three minutes to evacuate the Marsh Fork Elementary School before the water at the school was 6 feet deep, and in only minutes more it would rise to over 15 feet. Residents of the community are particularly concerned because the emergency response plan calls for notification of school children and others at risk by bullhorn.

This coal company also operates a coal preparation plant about 200 feet from the school. Coal dust from the plant perpetually coats the school with a black film, which many residents complain is making their children sick. A geologist at Marshall University confirmed that there was coal dust in every air sample he took in and around the school.

Ed Wiley, whose 12-year-old granddaughter attends Marsh Fork, walked for 40 days from Charleston, WV, to Washington, DC, in August and September of 2006 to call attention to the plight of the children at Marsh Fork Elementary School. When he arrived in Washington, Ed held a news conference and met with Senator Robert Byrd to discuss Marsh Fork Elementary School. Despite Ed’s reports that Senator Byrd “had tears in his eyes,” and had promised to “leave no stones unturned,” there has been no action to date on Ed’s requests. Ed has formed an organization to raise money to build a new school called Pennies of Promise More about Ed’s walk and the effort to move the school can be found on their website, or by contacting the community organization Coal River Mountain Watch .

Click here to watch videos about the plight of students at Marsh Fork Elementary School, watch video flyovers of the mine site, and learn more about the communities nearby.

Summary and photo contributed by Benji Burrell of Appalachian Voices.




  1. A Person Against Coal Says:

    I really cant believe this.

    Apparently, Coal Companies cant even be clean around schoolchildren- I would expect more of them than that.


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