Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition
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Coldwater Creek Sludge Spill

October 26, 2000
Photos By Vivian Stockman

On October 11, 2000, two hundred fifty million gallons of toxic coal sludge broke through from a coal slurry impoundment at Kentucky's largest mountaintop removal site. (The Exxon Valdez spill was "only" 11 million gallons.) The black goo poured into Coldwater and Wolf Creeks and headed on down the Tug Fork and Big Sandy Rivers and into the Ohio, traveling 100 miles, closing down community water supplies and devastating aquatic life. The impoundment, operated by Martin County Coal, a subsidiary of A. T. Massey (in turn owned, until recently, by Fluor Corp.), contains over two billion gallons of sludge and sits atop abandoned underground mines. Regulatory agencies had rated the "pond" a moderate risk for failure. In 1994, eight million gallons of sludge leaked from this impoundment. Bulwarks were installed in parts of the underground mine works as a feeble attempt to make the impoundment safer. This photo was taken 15 days after the Oct. 11, 2000 spill, downstream from the areas most affected by the spill. Illegal roadblocks, staffed probably by coal company employees, kept us from getting close to the worst areas. This was sickening enough. There are hundreds of similar "ponds" across Appalachia, at mountaintop removal and other coal mining sites.

 

 

Here a pump tries to move the sludge on down Coldwater Creek.

 

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