Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Degree Program

Sociology (Applied), PhD

Committee Chair

Heberle, Lauren

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Gagné, Patricia

Committee Member

Gagné, Patricia

Committee Member

Potter, Deborah

Committee Member

Markowitz, Lisa

Committee Member

Tallichet, Suzanne

Author's Keywords

environmental; appalachian; qualitative; martin county; resiliency; environmental justice


Environmental stressors, anything that poses a threat to human and environmental health, are disproportionately located in marginalized communities. Coal extraction companies produce and concentrate environmental stressors in Central Appalachia, a sub-region of Appalachia with high poverty rates and economic hardship. Through destructive coal extraction methods, the coal industry has jeopardized Central Appalachian health and environmental quality. The coal industry’s power to cause destruction in Central Appalachia is a product of historical strategic initiatives. Since the late 1800s, the coal industry has forcefully altered the culture and ideology of Central Appalachians and developed relationships with local, state, and federal policymakers to deter policy that threatens extraction. Thus, coal companies can cause environmental disasters with minimal backlash from Central Appalachians and policymakers. This research used an environmental justice framework, alongside a framework of resiliency, to understand the human response following two coal-based disasters in Martin County, Kentucky, a Central Appalachian county. The first disaster occurred on October 11, 2000, when a coal impoundment ruptured and discharged over 300 million gallons of coal slurry into Martin County. The second disaster is the gradual deterioration of Martin County’s water infrastructure over time. This research used grounded theory methods to understand personal experiences of each disaster, feelings towards external assistance, and how residents viewed resiliency in their community. More specifically, this research collected data from 22 semi-structured interviews with vocal residents and observations at four public water meetings. Findings suggest the coal industry, a silent community, and the lack of political oversight influenced historical adaptation of coal-based environmental stressors. Thus, findings further suggest coal’s exodus from Central Appalachia engendered community support to resist long-term adaptation of coal-based environmental stressors. Furthermore, these findings inform a path for understanding the broader Central Appalachian region.