From the Logan Banner of Logan, WV, comes this bit of history relating to coal and the Guyandotte River, dated 1927:
UNPLEASANT AND HARMLESS TASTE NOTED IN CITY WATER—IS CAUSED BY PHENOL WASHED INTO RIVER
The local water company has lately been flooded with telephone calls relative to a strange taste and odor in the city water supply. At the request of the water company the County Health Department has made an investigation. It has been found that the queer taste and odor is not due to excessive use of chlorine disinfectant, as most people seem to believe. A great many people have remarked that the odor especially resembles that of carbolic acid. As a matter of fact, the compound causing it does not belong to the same family. The taste is caused by a phenol compound which is a coal tar product found in coal mine wastes. The heavy rains this week have washed some of this deposit from the upper Guyan Valley coal fields into the river. There is no known satisfactory method to remove phenol from water, so it goes through the water paint; part of it combining with the chlorine used for disinfecting and producing the taste so prevalent for the last few days.
The water is entirely safe and it is not injurious to health. It will probably last only a few days, until the flood waters in the rivers subside.
The situation is not a new one; various towns over the state, using stream water from coal field drainage districts, report “chloro-phenol” taste from time to time. The only remedy is to keep the coal waste from draining into the streams. Some work has been done in Pennsylvania along this line but so far little has been accomplished in West Virginia.
Logan County Health Department
Source: Logan (WV) Banner, 21 October 1927