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Last Updated: Monday, 14 April, 2003, 09:33 GMT 10:33 UK
Award for US coalmine activist
By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent

A grandmother who has taken on the US coalmining industry has won a coveted environment prize.

Julia Bonds and friend   Robert F Gates
Julia Bonds (left) and friend in a silted valley (Image: Robert F Gates)
She is Julia Bonds of West Virginia, who campaigns against the mining of coal by removing entire mountaintops.

The practice causes widespread pollution, and is blamed for damaging the health of local people.

Julia says she is frequently threatened for her challenge to the industry, but has won some significant concessions.

Mountaintop removal mining involves blasting off the tops of mountains so that machines can remove thin seams of coal.

It devastates streams and forests, and local homes often suffer flooding and blast damage.

Levelling the Appalachians

The pollution from the mining and the toxic chemicals used in treating the coal have been linked to rising asthma rates and other respiratory complaints: Julia's grandson is affected.

Eileen Kampakuta Brown (left) and Eileen Wani Wingfield   Robert Roll
Eileen Kampakuta Brown (left) and Eileen Wani Wingfield (Image: Robert Roll)
The mining slurry containing lead, arsenic and mercury often overflows into watercourses, contaminating drinking water. Thousands of people have left their homes.

Debris from the mountaintop removal has buried 1,000 miles of streams and valleys, and killed several people. Opponents say half of West Virginia's mountains will be flattened in 20 years on present trends.

Julia, the daughter of a miner, says she routinely receives menacing anonymous phone calls, and has been threatened by the mining company's armed security guards.

Power for the poor

But she has persuaded the state mining board to act against one mine and to introduce more stringent measures against blasting.

She has also built up a partnership with the United Mine Workers' union to campaign against the menace of overweight coal trucks, which are blamed for 14 deaths in the last two years.

Pedro Arrojo-Agudo   Robert Roll
Pedro Arrojo-Agudo campaigns for Spain's rivers (Image: Robert Roll)
Carolyn Johnson of the Citizens Coal Council said: "Julia is lifting up a region of the US often forgotten by the rest of the country.

"She brings in politicians and other activists to see the effects of mountaintop removal mining.

"She knows she is giving people living in the coalfields voice and power nationwide."

Julia, director of Coal River Mountain Watch, is one of the winners of the 2003 Goldman Environmental Prize, chosen by an international jury.

Other winners are:

  • Odigha Odigha, campaigning against industrial logging in Cross River state in Nigeria. He has helped to establish sustainable ways of life for local people which avoid the use of endangered bushmeat
  • Von Hernandez of the Philippines, whose work led to the world's first nationwide ban on waste incinerators
  • Maria Elena Foronda Farro, for leading a campaign to clean up Peru's fishmeal industry: its untreated industrial waste used to cause cholera outbreaks and other health problems
  • Pedro Arrojo-Agudo of Spain, who is working to stop the country's national hydrological plan from damming and re-routing its last remaining free-flowing rivers
  • Eileen Kampakuta Brown and Eileen Wani Wingfield, Australian Aboriginal elders who want to stop the building of a nuclear waste dump on their people's land

The organisers say the prizes, worth a total of $750,000, are awarded to give "these environmental heroes the recognition, visibility, and credibility their efforts deserve".

Richard Goldman, the awards' founder, said: "In the current political climate, it is more important than ever to recognise people who are working to protect the health of their water, air and community resources."

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