'All the water's bad': In McDowell County, you have to get creative to find safe drinking water
To get drinking water, Burlyn Cooper and his neighbors have to collect runoff from the rock face of a mountain. It’s contaminated, but it’s all they have.
BRADSHAW, W.Va. — Every week, Burlyn Cooper parks on the edge of a winding two-lane road, unloads a dozen plastic jugs from the trunk of his car, and uses a hose to fill them with the spring water that drips from a mountain's exposed rock face. For Cooper and many of his neighbors, the mountain's runoff is their most reliable, and trusted, source of drinking water.
"I've got so used to it, I wouldn't know how to act, to turn the faucet on and have good water," he said. "I can't imagine it."
Cooper and his wife, Hazel, once depended on wells for water. More than 43 million Americans use wells, which can be a plentiful source of clean water. Today, however, the Coopers' two wells are too polluted to drink from — the result, they suspect, of nearby natural gas extraction. The once-clear water, which they now only use to wash themselves and water their animals, is orange and sour-smelling. It leaves a thick sludge in their sinks, rust-colored stains on their taps and clothes, and an itchy, red rash on Burlyn's skin.
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