CHARLESTON — An environmental activist locked himself to a barrel of dirty water that he brought with him to the front steps of the governor’s mansion on Wednesday as part of a broader protest against Appalachian coal slurry impoundments.
Slurry is the soupy waste created when coal is washed to help it burn more cleanly. Companies have disposed of the dirty water and solids in various ways over the years, injecting it into abandoned mines, damming it in huge ponds.
Federal officials say impoundment failures are a major threat to people and property, pointing to the 1972 collapse of a dam in Logan County as evidence. A 30-foot wave of sludge killed 125 people, injured 1,200 and left more than 4,000 homeless.
Authorities planned to charge Rock Creek resident David Baghdadi with trespassing and obstruction once they freed his arm from a pipe that had been inside the barrel.
Environmental officials also planned to test the dark water inside the barrel, which sat only a few feet away from the mansion’s front door.
“This was the wrong way to do things, and as a result we’ve had maybe a dozen Charleston firefighters on campus and at least two trucks that hopefully were not needed elsewhere in this city,” said Lawrence Messina, a spokesman for the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety.
“It’s definitely a public safety concern.”
The governor’s mansion sits on statehouse grounds and there is no security gate restricting public access to it. Messina said there have been discussions in the past about enhancing security on the capitol campus and that those conversations are ‘ongoing.’
Baghdadi is a member of Radical Action for Mountain People’s Survival and wore a white haz-mat suit that said “LOCKED TO DIRTY WATER” in large letters on the back. He declined to answer questions from reporters about why he locked himself to the barrel or what he was protesting as firefighters worked to free him from the pipe.
Earlier in the day, two activists with the group paddled onto a slurry impoundment and displayed banners at Independence Coal’s Shumate Creek in Raleigh County. There were no immediate arrests.