AVONDALE, WV (WVNS)– For more than 30 years, residents in a small community in Avondale, McDowell County say they’ve had clean water, until 2018 when the Red Ash Highwall Mine opened up just a few miles away. 

“My water started changing colors,” one woman told us. “I’m thinking the well is getting low on water because it was turning a brownish color. It went from brown to reddish/orangish color, and then I started breaking out real bad.”   

We spoke with one woman who asked to remain off-camera.  She told us she spent most of her life in this community with no issues until her skin began to break out in red and purple welts.  

When the pain and discoloration would not subside, she went to see multiple doctors. That is when she was given a diagnosis. 

“It’s lichenoid dermatitis caused by a chemical reaction burn.  I was then sent to another environmental dermatologist who tested me for a whole week.  They checked me for a little bit of everything.  But it came back that I have something in my body that is made from machinery oils.  I have something in my body that makes rubber and I have Nickel in my body.”

This prompted even further tests on her blood. 

“And they found arsenic, barium, chloroform, and it just went downhill from there. There has been aluminum, arsenic, barium, lead magnesium, mercury, everything. That’s when they told me I had H.Pylori.”

Her doctors said she was lucky to be alive given the amount of heavy metals in her bloodstream.

“I’ve been having problems with my kidneys, my liver, and my stomach is tore all to pieces,” she said.

She reached out to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, and the local and state government.  

The state came out and determined there was no contamination of the water as a result of the gas wells in the area, and that water from the creek did not get into her well. 

In a statement provided to 59News, the WVDEP said:

“The WVDEP’s Division of Mining and Reclamation (DMR) and Office of Oil and Gas (OOG) have investigated each complaint received by those divisions, conducted numerous investigations, and taken multiple samples from multiple sites in the area. The WVDEP has not observed any evidence that would indicate the well water quality issues in this area are related to mining or oil and gas activity.”

Terry Fletcher, Cheif Communications Officer, WVDEP

However, she said the problem did not go away. The water kept changing colors daily and the rash kept getting worse. 

“My skin burned, oh my god. It was like I had sat in the sun for days and days and had blistered, but it was the scars burning.  My whole skin it felt like it was going to fall off. It was hurting so bad,” she explained.  

Her family has been forced to collect rainwater for things like cleaning, bathing, dishes and anything requiring water because of how severe the reaction is. 

She told us that the ongoing fight for her health and the community continues to be an uphill one but she wants people to hear her message. 

“It feels like where we live in the mountains, nobody cares. You take care of yourself because nobody else is going to. You’ve got to do something to survive. Everybody deserves clean water, I don’t care who they are.  I’m tired of being sick, I need help.  I don’t know what to do,” she cried.

We attempted to contact the Red Ash Highwall Mine several times and were hung up on each time.