2nd major environmental disaster in West Virginia this year: Pipe break at coal facility contaminates waterway
February 13, 2014
A coal preparation facility spilled an unknown quantity of coal slurry into a creek in Kanawha County, W.V. Tuesday morning, according to West Virginia officials.
As the Charleston Gazette reports, the spill occurred at Patriot Coal’s Kanawha Eagle operation, which is located near Fields Creek. The operation is near Winifrede, WV — southeast of Charleston, the state’s capitol and site of last month’s major chemical spill. The amount of coal slurry that spilled is still unknown, but a West Virginia DEP spokesman told the Charleston Gazette that the spill could probably be characterized as “significant.” Local reporters have tweeted photos of the spill, which has turned the creek’s water black.
According to the county’s emergency services director, the spill was caused by a break in the eight-inch slurry line that ran between the preparation plant and the company’s refuse impoundment, which occurred sometime between midnight and 5:30 in the morning. According to the DEP, the company in charge of the facility reported the spill to the DEP at 7:30 a.m.
Workers have shut down the slurry pumps to stop the spill, but the slurry has contaminatedthe creek, which flows into the Kanawha River. Responders are trying to contain the spill to Fields Creek in the hopes that it does not reach the Kanawha River. Officials say if the spill does reach the river they don’t think it will affect drinking water because there are no water intakes downstream of the spill.
Coal slurry is a mix of solid and liquid waste that’s created from coal preparation, a process that includes washing coal with chemicals like MCHM. The DEP said in a statement that the facility utilizes a frothing chemical called Flomin 110-C that contains MCHM, the same chemical that spilled from a Freedom Industries holding plant and contaminated water for 300,000 West Virginians last month. Lawmakers have been grappling with how to prevent similar spills from happening in the future — West Virginia Sen. John Unger (D), introduced abill aimed at regulating above-ground storage tanks that was passed unanimously in the Senate, but Tuesday morning’s spill proves that other holding facilities, including impoundments, are also at risk of spills.
Slurry has spilled before in West Virginia — in 1972, a coal slurry impoundment dam in Logan County burst, spilling 132,000,000 gallons of liquid onto small mining settlements, killing 125 people and injuring 1,121. And in October of 2000, a coal slurry spill in Martin County, Kentucky, spilled 306,000,000 gallons, polluting 100 miles of waterways and killing aquatic life and plants in West Virginia and Kentucky.