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Coal Mining Accidents

On January 4, 2016, the West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety, and Training reports that an accident involving a mine belt at the Greenbrier Minerals Lower War Eagle Mine in Cyclone, Wyoming County killed a 53 year old employee working as a fire boss and belt man.  While mining is a much safer occupation today than in years past (there were only two mining related on the job deaths in West Virginia in 2005) people working in America’s mining industry still face many occupational dangers.  Some of the most common on the job accidents in the mining industry include:

  • Cave-Ins
  • Gas Explosions, usually caused by methane gas buildup from improper ventilation
  • Vehicle or Heavy Equipment Accidents
  • Chemical Exposure, including contact exposure, fume inhalation, and tailing retention runoff
  • Particulate or Dust inhalation
  • Fires
  • Electrocution
  • Flooding

Safety Improvements

Over the last decade or so a number of high profile mining disasters in the United States and abroad, including the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster in Raleigh County, West Virginia, have resulted in an increased awareness of mining safety and has brought about a variety of regulatory changes within the industry.

On April 5, 2010 a coal dust explosion at a depth of about 1,000 feet at the Upper Big Branch Mine killed twenty-nine of the thirty-one miners working on site at the time. Independent investigations after the incident found that the mine’s owner, Alpha Natural Resources, and its predecessor company, Massey Energy, had a history of ongoing critical safety violations that went back for years before the disaster. Additionally investigators placed blame on the U.S. Department of Labor and the Mine Safety and Health Administration for overlooking hundreds of safety violations and failing to inform workers that the facility was not in compliance with safety standards set out by state and Federal law. Eventually settlements were reached in the matter totaling well over $200 million dollars, and criminal charges were brought against the mine superintendent for conspiracy to impede enforcement efforts.

Incidents of improper action by the Mine Safety and Health Administration have been a reoccurring theme throughout the years in the United States, and enforcement can be an issue, partially due to notoriously low fines for noncompliance with safety regulations. A 2014 study of over twenty years of information found that:

  • Over $70 million in penalties were outstanding from 2,700 mining companies.
  • Mines that are delinquent on penalties have injury rates 50% greater than mines that pay violation fines.
  • Companies that are delinquent on fine payments typically continue to violate safety standards.
  • Approximately 40,000 violations that remain outstanding are categorized as “Significant and Substantial”—without intervention they would likely have resulted in injury or death.

Help for Victims of a Failing System

The majority of America’s electricity that we use every day to make modern life possible is generated through coal burning power plants, but the agency that exists to protect the employees who make this possible fail them on a regular basis.  And these failures lead to deaths or lifelong injuries.  If you or a family member has been injured or killed in a mining accident, contact a representative of Colombo Law to discuss your situation. Our experienced personal injury attorneys will fight to get you the compensation you deserve for your wrongful death or work related injury.

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Accident on Route 33 Sends Two People to the Hospital

Wes Virginia State Police responded to the scene of an accident on Route 33 in Upshur County on Tuesday February 2.  The accident occurred after a driver of a pickup truck drove the wrong way and collided head on with another vehicle. This resulted in the drivers of both vehicles being airlifted to Ruby Hospital. There were lane closures on Route 33 for a period of time Tuesday afternoon but have since reopened.

While it is not known why the driver was driving the wrong way at this time, the police are investigating the accident further.


The information above was from news report from WBOY and WDTV. See the links below for further information on the accident and for any updates on the investigation and the conditions of the drivers:

http://www.wdtv.com/wdtv.cfm?func=view&section=5-News&item=UPDATE-Two-Flown-to-Hospital-after-Wrong-Way-Crash-on-Route-33-28442

http://www.wboy.com/story/31122052/crews-respond-to-vehicle-accident-on-route-33-in-upshur-county

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Nursing Home Abuse

Members of the Baby Boomer generation are rapidly reaching retirement age, and the growing population of elderly citizens in America has resulted in exponential growth in the number of Americans who live in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Unfortunately there has been a corresponding growth in another statistic: senior citizens who have suffered neglect and abuse at the hands of staff members of nursing homes and other residential facilities.

Our country currently has approximately 15,700 nursing homes that between them account for more than 1.3 million residents. This number increases daily, and will continue to do so for many years into the future as the generation born between 1946 and 1964 grows older. Studies have shown that an estimated 10% of the population of the nursing home and assisted living facility residents have experienced some kind of nursing home abuse over the last year. A study by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services discovered that over 90% of nursing home and assisted living facilities in this country has had at least one failure to meet the standards set out by Federal laws during the survey period; on average facilities were found to have around six.  More worrying than that, in a federal study from 2010 over half of the facility staff that were surveyed admitted to having abused a resident at their location within the last year.  Unfortunately nursing home abuse is a common problem, and it is likely that it will affect you or one of your family or friends at some point in your lifetime.

Types of Elder Abuse

There are a variety of different forms that elder abuse may take. The most common types are physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. While these typically leave obvious signs of the abuse, financial exploitation and passive neglect also are common problems that face seniors. These kinds of abuse are significantly more difficult for both family members and regulatory agency inspectors to identify.  If you have a family member in a nursing home it is important to be vigilant for signs that may signify abuse and neglect. Many times confusion or shame keeps the elderly from reporting that they are being abused to the appropriate authorities or even their families. This becomes even more important if the facility resident suffers from dementia or other cognitive illnesses: almost half of all people 85 years old or older have developed Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, and within that group nearly half have been abused or mistreated by their caretakers.

What are the Warning Signs?

Generally the warning signs of nursing home abuse involve sudden changes in behavior or physical or mental condition, though they can vary depending on the type of abuse involved.  Obvious physical symptoms such as bruises, abrasions, broken bones, unusual weight loss, bedsores, and poor hygiene are common. Psychological signs can be less obvious but just as telling: unusual depression, sudden changes in alertness or mood, or withdrawal from the resident’s normal activities. Finally, any unexplained changes in the resident’s financial situation should also raise concerns.

Additional resources for those with a family member or friend in a nursing home or assisted living facility are available through The National Center on Elder Abuse, the United States Administration on Aging, the Nursing Home Abuse Guide, and a number of other sources.

West Virginia Nursing Home Abuse Experts

If you feel that a loved one in a nursing home or assisted living facility has been injured due to the abuse of staff members, contact a representative at Colombo Law to discuss your options today. 

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An Introduction to Asbestos

 You have probably heard about asbestos - that it causes malignant mesothelioma, that it can be found in old buildings, that removing it can be extremely expensive. But what actually is asbestos, and if it is so dangerous, why did it used to be so common?

What is Asbestos?

“Asbestos” is actually a category of six naturally occurring minerals: chrysotile, tremolite, anthophyllite, amosite, crocidolite, and actinolite. These six kinds of rocks are all made up of a similar chemical composition, which makes them crystallize into thin, fibrous crystals.  Chemically these crystal strands are only loosely bound to each other, and can be easily separated into flexible strings.

The reason that its use was so prevalent in the 19th century was because it was a fantastic thermal and audio insulator, and because of the flexibility of the crystal “strands” it was easy to work into a wide variety of products. In modern times, asbestos-based products were used in everything from fireproofing spray and vermiculite insulation to linoleum and floor tiles to decorative texturing finishes for interior walls and ceilings.

The History of Asbestos Use

The earliest discovered examples of Asbestos use dates back to around 2400 B.C.E. around Lake Juojarvi, Finland where local groups used it for making cooking pots and other kitchen implements. The word “asbestos” itself is credited to the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder, who wrote of the material’s fire resistant properties at some length in his Natural History. Somewhat later asbestos cloth became a sort of ancient party trick for the wealthy, with everyone from Persian nobility to the emperor Charlemagne being amused with it—various household objects such as napkins and tablecloths, and in some cases even garments, being produced, then simply thrown into the fire to clean them when they got dirty. Anything that had spilled on them would be incinerated, while the items themselves were left unscathed by the flames. Asbestos was also used in various places as wicks for oil lamps, since the wick itself would not burn and thus did not have to be periodically replaced.

Large-scale industrial mining of asbestos minerals began in the 1850s, with the Russian Empire being the largest commercial producer, and its widespread use in industry accelerated internationally with the Industrial Revolution. By the 1930s asbestos in various forms had become ubiquitous throughout the world, being used in both residential and commercial construction, manufacturing, friction products in the automotive industry such as brake pads and clutch disks, and particularly in shipping. Many Americans serving in the United States Navy were exposed to asbestos during World War II because of its use in ships as a thermal insulator and for soundproofing, and it was not uncommon for Navy veterans to develop malignant mesothelioma decades later because of it.

The Discovery of Health Dangers

Asbestos exposure was suspected of causing medical problems as far back as in the Roman world, but scientific studies were not conducted in any serious manner until the beginning of the 1900s, and the first diagnosis of asbestosis was not made until 1924. The diagnosis of mesothelioma first appeared in the medical literature in 1931, and ten years later the United States government began regulating conditions in mining and manufacturing facilities. It was not until several court cases in the late 1970s proved that the asbestos industry had known about the health hazards their products posed since the 1930s and actively concealed them from the public that any real public attention was brought to the matter. It was not until 2002 that domestic production of asbestos products was finally banned, and the United States is now one of the few first world countries that does not have a complete ban on asbestos in consumer products. Trace amounts of asbestos is still legal in American consumer products. In fact, on more than one occasion studies have found asbestos in children’s toys, most recently (2000 and mid-2005) in several brands of crayons. In the 2000 survey, the worst culprit was Crayola brand’s Orchid color, which had a content of 2.86% asbestos.

Seek Legal Help

Asbestos causes medical complications, from non-malignant pleural diseases to more serious asbestosis to malignant mesothelioma where patients have an average lifespan of 12 months past diagnosis. If you or a loved one has developed a medical condition from asbestos exposure, contact Colombo Law to discuss your potential legal remedies.

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Burn Injuries

Burn injuries are extremely painful, and potentially life threatening medical issues that can be caused by a wide variety of things both in and outside of the home. They can often occur as a result of automobile or on-the-job injuries, and are not uncommon occurrences to be suffered by patrons at restaurants. In 2015 approximately 486,000 Americans presented for medical care as the result of burn injuries.

Types and Severity

Burns are not just caused by heat (thermal burns); they can also be caused by contact with electrical current, chemicals, or radiation, such as in industrial accidents, or by friction as in the case of “road rash” or the contact injuries that athletes and children suffer from sliding on gym floors or carpet. The severity of burns is divided into four categories:

  • First Degree Burns affect the outermost layer of the skin and usually cause minimal injury.  They will present as redness and light inflammation and usually heal within a few days.  Typically they do not require medical intervention unless they occur on a face or one of the major joints, or involve an area larger than three inches
  • Second Degree Burns involve more than the top layer of skin and often cause blisters. Second degree burns often take two to three weeks to heal, sometimes even requiring skin grafting to treat, and can be particularly painful because the nerve tissues are damaged but not completely destroyed. Second degree burns can often be treated at home, but medical care should be sought if they are larger in size and involve areas of the face, hands, buttocks, groin, or feet.
  • Third Degree Burns are an immediate medical emergency. If you suspect that someone has suffered a third degree classification burn you should contact your local emergency services as soon as possible. Third degree burns, or full thickness burns, involve damage to all the layers of skin and extend into the immediately underlying tissues. The skin will take on a waxy or charred appearance after suffering a third degree burn, but oddly these burns can often be only minimally painful due to extensive nerve damage and the onset of shock.
  • Fourth Degree Burns extend past the skin and immediately underlying tissues and damage muscles, tendons, ligaments, blood vessels, and eve bone. Because of the amount and depth of the damage done, fourth degree burns often have a low probability of survival and will require a tremendous amount of medical care for there to be a chance of recovery. They are often caused in industrial settings after the victim has been in contact with high voltage electricity. When a person comes into contact with a major electrical source, the current will seek to ground itself out through their body, often causing a burn that runs from the point of contact through the feet, damaging everything it comes in contact with along this route. Burns caused by microwave radiation and some kinds of broadcasting equipment have a similar mechanism, in that the majority of the injuries are caused internally.

Colombo Law: West Virginia Burn Injury Experts

Burn injuries can be incredibly painful, causing severely debilitating injuries that will require expensive, long term medical treatment to recover. If you or a loved one has suffered a burn injury, either occurring by itself or in combination with an industrial or automotive accident, contact the personal injury attorneys at Colombo Law to discuss your situation and see how we can help you on your road to recovery.

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Auto Emergency Kits

An emergency kit for your car is one of the most useful things you hope you will never need, but are glad you brought along when you do. These days you can buy pre-packaged kits from almost any big-box retailer, and while this may seem like the best way to go, the truth is that the contents of many of these kits are not well thought out, and the vast majority of them have poor quality items included with them. An emergency kit does not have to be huge or break the bank to be useful: some inexpensive items in that old backpack your son or daughter decided was not cool enough to be seen with this school year can really save your day out on the roads, especially if you are traveling out of town.

Things You Need:

  • Charged Cell Phone—you will probably already have your cell phone with you when you are out on the road, but do you have a way to power it if the battery dies? Having an extra phone charger tucked away where there is not the temptation to borrow it for another car, or an auxiliary USB battery can be the difference between calling for a tow truck and sitting on the side of the road.
  • Flashlight and Batteries—a high quality, waterproof flashlight (not one of the little ones sold at gas stations) and a set of batteries. Mag-Light’s three D-cell flashlights are a fantastic choice, ones that emergency services across the country have relied on for decades, and are readily available almost everywhere. Be sure to not put the batteries in the light until you need them however, as there is nothing more frustrating than to try to turn on your flashlight in an emergency only to find out the batteries have leaked.
  • Chem-Lights—a few glow sticks can be really handy, not only to provide ambient light for changing a tire, but also as a safer alternative to road flares.
  • Jumper Cables—it is best to get a set that are at least ten feet long and of a heavy gauge wire.  If you are not familiar with how to jump-start a car, be sure to have someone teach you in the convenience of your own driveway.
  • Multi-Tool—these can be very handy for many different tasks. Both Gerber and Leatherman make some fantastic ones.
  • Gloves and Rags or Paper Towels—chances are if you need to do almost anything under the hood you are going to get dirty. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer is also a fantastic solvent if you need to clean up.
  • Duct Tape—store it in a Ziploc bag so that if the adhesive melts in the heat inside your trunk it will not get everything else sticky.
  • Garbage or Contractor Bags—these are some of the most versatile things you can keep in your trunk and can serve as everything from ground cloths and seat protectors to ponchos and dry storage bags.
  • Windshield Ice Scraper—make sure it is a good quality, heavy duty one. You do not want it to break, or be so small that the job takes you twice as long as it could have.
  • Bottled Water and Nonperishable Snacks—rotate them out every now and then if they get close to their ‘best by’ date.
  • A Basic First Aid Kit—bandages, alcohol wipes, and similar supplies.

Things You Probably Do Not Need (But Your Mileage May Vary)

  • Fire Extinguisher—car fires accelerate rapidly to the point where anything you will carry in your trunk may not do any good, and in the case of engine fires opening the hood to access the fire in order to put it out often introduces airflow to the fire and will cause it to flare up even more. If you are going to carry a fire extinguisher, get a Class B/Class C unit that is rated for flammable liquids and learn how to use it before you have to.
  • Foam Tire Sealant—unless the tire sealant kit includes a way to inflate the tire again using these will not solve a problem, it will only keep it from getting worse. In addition, driving on a low pressure or flat tire has a very high likelihood of seriously damaging the wheel, which is costly to replace. Either change out a flat tire for the spare, or call for a service truck.
  • Tow Straps—unless you have access to a vehicle capable of towing your car at the time you get stuck this is a useless thing to carry.  In most situations it is better to wait for a tow truck than risk damaging your vehicle and possibly injuring yourself by using improper equipment.
  • Sand or Cat Litter—these are great to have in your garage, but unless you know you are going into a situation where there will be ice and the added weight will be beneficial you can probably leave this at home. The amount of sand that you would need to carry to get a car unstuck in a real world situation will likely take up most of the room in your trunk while adversely affecting your gas mileage on a daily basis.

Focus on Safety

An emergency kit for your car does not have to be expensive or take up a lot of room, and the peace of mind that being prepared for an eventuality brings is worth the small amount of time it takes to put one together. At Colombo Law we hope that you will never have a serious accident on the road, but like your emergency kit, we will be there if you need us.

What is Fracking?

An Introduction to Fracking

There has been a lot in the news over the last few years about “fracking,” but what exactly is it, and why is it surrounded by so much controversy? Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” is a process used to extract oil and natural gas from previously depleted, or alternately hard to access subterranean reserves.

Some types of oil-bearing strata (such as sands or highly porous limestones, both of which have big “holes” that the oil occupies) are much easier to pump petroleum reserves out of than others (like shales and other less porous formations that have smaller or more inaccessible “holes”). In the very simplest of terms, fracking is a process that uses a slurry of water, sand, and various chemicals injected underground under extreme pressure to break up the rock underground to allow the petroleum to flow better, and thus be easier to pump.

The Controversy

While at first glance this may seem like an ideal new technology, there are a number of major environmental concerns that have never been properly addressed by the industry. The drilling process releases an assortment of highly dangerous chemicals as air pollution, including benzene, ethyl benzene (BTEX), xylene, toluene, ozone, nitrogen oxides, formaldehyde, methane, carbon monoxide, and potentially hazardous particulate dusts as well. Exposure to these various pollutants are known to cause wide ranging health problems: cancer, organ damage, nervous system disorders, birth defects, silicosis, and even death.

The fracking process itself also often leads to contamination of the groundwater and soil pollution. The pressures used to inject the slurry into the bore shafts is high enough that it has a high tendency to leach into anywhere there is space, and in some cases that has included the water tables where local residents source their drinking water. In addition, runoff of the surface water, and leakage from the drilling retention ponds are also potential concerns. So what are the “various chemicals” that are finding their way into people’s drinking water around these sites?  The truth is, at this point nobody really knows. Oil extraction companies have gone to great lengths to not divulge exactly what the “slurry” is composed of: they classify it as a trade secret, which allows a great deal of protection as far as reporting the contents of their mixture goes. It creates a catch-22; in order to get that information, plaintiffs would have to subpoena it during litigation, but they can not easily litigate health issues without knowing chemicals that would cause the issues are being used.

Earthquakes

It has been suspected for some time that fracking may also have adverse geological effects as well, and recent studies conducted by the University of Texas around the Dallas-Fort Worth region of Texas has found causal links between fracking activities and earthquakes. This is called the “effective stress model,” and basically shows that pumping viscous liquid into areas with dormant fault lines have the same effect as oiling a hinge: it reduces the friction that is keeping it from moving, so not surprisingly it moves. Now the big question in Dallas is, will it eventually stop? That, however, is a question without an answer right now.

Call Colombo Law

If you have developed a medical condition that you believe was brought on by fracking activities in your area, contact a representative with Colombo Law today to discuss your problem and learn the potential solutions. The environmental hazards associated with hydraulic fracturing can create serious long-term health issues, and the sooner you have an experienced attorney on your side the sooner you can begin your recovery.

Distracted Driving

Everybody knows that drinking and driving can have serious and sometimes fatal results, but a less publicized danger is proving to be even more of a hazard on America’s roads: distracted driving. Distracted driving is operating a motor vehicle while also doing other tasks that take your attention away from the road. According to the Center for Disease Control, nine people are killed and around 1,150 are injured every day in wrecks caused by distracted drivers.

Distracted driving falls into three general categories, a driver taking their eyes off the road (visual), taking their hands off the wheel (manual), or taking their mind off the driving task (cognitive), and are caused by things like eating, using in-vehicle technology like GPS systems, or using cell phones. Of these various causes, cell phone usage has quickly become the most prevalent.

Cell Phone Use While Driving

As cellular data plans have grown cheaper and the technology more ubiquitous, it will be of no surprise that the number of cell phone related car accidents has grown exponentially in recent years. Studies by the National Highway & Transportation Administration (NHTSA) has shown that there are close similarities between the loss of control demonstrated by people using cell phones while driving and the impairment experienced by drunk drivers. In these government studies drivers that were texting and driving had the same rates of effective impairment (such as weaving into oncoming traffic, delayed braking, following too closely, and similar instances of driver error) as drivers who had consumed four beers before attempting to drive a vehicle.

In recent years drunk driving fatalities on American roads have dropped by about 25%, but at the same time accidents that were caused by distracted driving increased by 22% for the same time period. In fact the most recent statistics released by the NHTSA report that 25% of all traffic accidents in the United States over the last few years involved one of the drivers texting while driving: over 1.6 million collisions a year could have been avoided if drivers had waited until they arrived at their destination to send a text message.

Changes in the Law

There is no nation-wide set of laws regulating the use of cellular phones while driving, and rules can vary drastically between different states and even cities, so it is a good idea to be familiar with the laws in the areas you will be traveling through.  Currently it is illegal to text while driving in 41 states, and 11 states prohibit any use of cell phones while driving at all. Because of the sheer number of accidents that have been occurring, cities and states across the nation have been moving quickly to regulate cell phone use by drivers, so even in areas where it is currently permitted it may not be legal in the near future.

In Ohio

As of January, 2016, voice calls by drivers under the age of 18 are illegal throughout the state and voice calls by drivers over the age of 18 without the use of a hands-free device are illegal in certain counties and cities, and texting while driving by drivers of any age is also illegal.

In West Virginia

As of January, 2016, texting and driving and operating a handheld cell phone is illegal on the part of any driver. Using a hands-free device is permitted, except in the case of drivers under 18 with a learner’s permit or intermediate license. It should also be noted that these are considered Primary offenses in West Virginia: a driver can be pulled over and cited for them without an underlying cause for the traffic stop.

Ohio and West Virginia Traffic Accident Experts

If you or a loved one has been injured by a distracted driver, Colombo Law is here to help. With offices in both Morgantown, West Virginia and Columbus, Ohio we are conveniently located to serve both the North Central West Virginia and Southeastern Ohio areas. Contact us today and let our dedicated staff explain how we can get you the compensation you deserve.

When Your Gas Stove Not Only Burns the Food But Burns You

During the holiday season many families throughout the U.S. spent a significant amount of time in the kitchen cooking up various family meals, dishes, and desserts. Many households use gas stoves that are generally safe, but do experience a number of issues that can sometimes lead to malfunctioning, gas leaks, and in a worst case scenario, explosions and burns. Some of the most common issues involving gas stoves, include:

  • Delayed ignition: A malfunction caused by blocked ignition ports. When the ignition port is clogged, it has the potential to cause a fire or explosion that could damage the oven glass viewing pane and other internal parts.
  • Gas odors: The smell of gas indicates that something is wrong [and] in most cases, defective gas valves cause gas emissions. Gas valves may sometimes open up too soon and do not allow the gas ignition to reach the right temperature [and] this lack of synchrony results in a gas leak.
  • Gas Leak: This is often evidenced by a gas odor and may be caused by damaged gas valves or a hole or slit in the valve. Any gas odor must be addressed immediately. If left unchecked, it can cause a fire or explosion and can also poison household members.
  • Inadequate Lighting
  • Oven Burner Fails to Light

A few years ago, a faulty gas stove contributed to the death of an older woman. According to the news report, after the woman’s housing authority tried to fix the stove, the woman “still couldn't get it to work right.” She said it would burn too high, but she did not know what to do because it did not have any knobs. On Saturday, she said she was going to have them check it again. She said the gas smell was so strong she could hardly stand it. Sometime on Sunday, Snead sat down on her sofa and turned on the television. She was still there when police forced open the door of her apartment about 7 p.m. Tuesday. Howard, who lives in the same apartment complex, said the smell of gas was overpowering when she walked into the apartment and tried to shake her sister awake. One gas burner on the stove was turned on, and there was a tea kettle on the burner. The police concluded that the faulty gas stove was to blame for the woman`s death.

Cases involving defective gas stoves can often be complicated, time-consuming, and expensive in addition to requiring product liability experts to testify that the gas stove at issue was in fact defective, and was the responsible for any injuries or harms that may have been suffered.

Let our Attorneys Help You Today

If you or someone you know has suffered personal harm or medical issues as a result of a defective gas stove, you need attorneys with experience in such personal injury matters. Colombo Law is highly experienced in such matters and can evaluate your potential legal claims on your behalf.

Water Contamination and Fracking

Many rural communities in West Virginia are dependant on well water as the primary source of fresh water. Based on a 2012 report from the U.S. Geological Society Report, “the quality of West Virginia's groundwater is generally good, according to a recent 10-year U.S. Geological Survey study, the most comprehensive assessment of West Virginia's groundwater quality to date. In the majority of cases, raw, untreated groundwater samples met primary drinking-water criteria meant for finished, supplied drinking water.” The report highlights that “about 42% of all West Virginians rely on groundwater for their domestic water supply.”

With the onset of fracking activities in states such as West Virginia, there has been increasing evidence of many communities that are experiencing well water contamination from such activities. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, “has led to a boom in oil and natural gas production around the nation.” It has reduced imports and led to hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue for companies and landowners, but has also created pollution fears. Extracting fuel from shale formations requires pumping hundreds of thousands of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals into the ground to break apart rock and free the gas. When some of that water, along with large quantities of existing underground water, returns to the surface, and it can contain high levels of salt, drilling chemicals, heavy metals, and naturally occurring low-level radiation.

Furthermore, it has been reported that “West Virginia has had about 122 complaints that drilling contaminated water wells over the past four years, and in four cases the evidence was strong enough that the driller agreed to take corrective action.”  The issue of fracking and well water contamination remains hotly contested, as often there is no clear causal relationship between the  natural gas and fracking and the onset of water contamination.  

A recent report by the EPA has concluded that fracking does often contaminate drinking water. It concluded that fracking "led to impacts on drinking water resources, including contamination of drinking water wells." These conclusions by the EPA are the first real acknowledgement by the environmental agency that fracking can and does lend itself to water contamination. As a result, many property owners, when they determine that their drinking water and water wells have been contaminated, seek to assert claims for personal injury, health care claims, and medical monitoring. All of these personal injury claims are premised on the ability of the property owner to show that such health claims are causally related to the fracking activity. 

The homeowners must actively seek pre-drill water quality, where property owners must demonstrate contaminant levels prior to any fracking or drilling activity, and then make such comparisons afterward, where the goal is to demonstrate that fracking significantly contributed to adversely harming the quality of the water. The strategy of the natural gas drilling companies in these type of situations is usually to deny any responsibility over tainted water by arguing that there are many contaminants that occur naturally in water. The presence of pre-drill water quality testing rebuts many of these arguments and provides very scientifically sound basis by which to assess the quality of water.