I grew up in northeastern Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley, along with the southern coal fields one of the world’s largest producers of anthracite coal. Until a disaster flooded the mines and permanently stopped work up and down the Wyoming Valley in the late 1950s, men deep underground dug out literally millions of tons of coal each year.

I have a sharp memory from a time before that happened, seeing an outpouring of black water — thousands of gallons a minute — from a coal mine that sat adjacent to the Susquehanna River. The black water from coal-washing poured into the river from an opening 5-feet square in the river wall, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, an unstoppable torrent, turning the river black and killing the shad and eels and everything else that had ever lived in the water.

Robert P. Bomboy has written for more than 60 national magazines and is the author of six books.

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