Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition
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Public hearing on permit renewals for a coal sludge impoundment

December 5, 2000
Photos by Deana Smith

Hydrogeologist Rick Eades speaks at a public hearing on the permit renewals for AT Massey’s Brushy Fork coal slurry impoundment above Whitesville, WV. Doyle Coakley, of the Citizens Coal Council, holds the map for Rick, who reviewed the permit for OVEC. Three coal company executives and engineers sit in the front row, listening as Rick challenges statements they had made earlier.

Here are some excerpts from Rick’s report for OVEC:

· Note that the original permit was for only 270 acres, and with IBR-6 had grown to 645 acres. (IBR is Incidental Boundary Review. Rick notes that IBRs are routinely approved, though they are anything but “incidental.”)

· MSHA (Mine Safety and Health Administration) officials have apparently told Whitesville resident Freda Williams that the site is the “top” high priority in the area, although current status of the database ranks it as “moderate in risk, “just as the Martin County KY site was ranked before it
broke through.

· Currently permitted acreage at Brushy Fork Slurry Impoundment is 645 acres, making it the single biggest facility of its type in Southern WV’s coal fields, based on current TAGIS database review.

· Massey officials have confirmed that the pond is permitted to store nearly 5 billion gallons of slurry, 20 times more than the amount released at the Martin County, KY site.

· Should Marfork Coal Company be successful in further expanding the dam, it could eventually hold over 22,700 acre-feet of slurry at normal stage. That is roughly equivalent to slurry aquarium with a base the size of a football field and a height that is higher than Mount McKinley, the highest mountain in North America.

· Although many in the industry and in the regulatory community contend that the coal waste is nothing more than rock and dirt, that is only partially true…In various stages, coal cleaning also includes the use of flocculants…One of the compounds sometimes used as a flocculant is of serious concern. It is not known at this time is that flocculant has been used in coal cleaning or slurry at the Brushy Fork site or nearby prep plant. Superfloc A-1885 RS Flocculant is described in Material Safety Data Sheet toxicology sections as follows, “contains (a) chemical(s) known… to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm.”…

· Serious concerns exist with regard to heavy metals occurrence in coal slurry or sludge. Chemical analyses of the sludge and water, and toxicology reports, are still (!) pending almost 2 months after the Martin County KY disaster…Metals of concern in coal slurry include mercury, lead, arsenic, chromium, cadmium, boron, selenium, nickel, and others.

· Several seams have been mined beneath the Brushy Fork impoundment…the Eagle seam may occur within as little as 100 feet of the base of the impoundment. The Eagle seam has been deep mined extensively in the area by room and pillar method. ..Two separate attached plates graphically show the extent of Eagle mine workings directly beneath the pond area of the impoundment. The mine workings extend significantly to the northwest. One of those map plates shows only a partial area of the permitted slurry pond.
Over 350,000 square feet of that partial area of the approved pond is estimated to be underlain by Eagle mine workings.

· And the shear volume of material at Brushy Fork combined with the close proximity to the Eagle Coal seam workings indicates this facility warrants the utmost caution.

· A.T. Massey is the parent company for both Martin County Coal Company (KY) and Marfork Coal Company (Brushy Fork). Consultants that served MCCC include Ogden Environmental. Geo/Environmental, which often represents Marfork’s concerns, has staff that departed from Ogden, including Scott Ballard. This may be of no concern, but may also suggest increased vigilance with which regulatory oversight at the Brushy Fork facility occurs.

· All parties with any concerns about the integrity of slurry ponds located over deep mines should err on the side of caution at this time. Experience is the best teacher. Let’s all pray we are learn something from the Martin County KY experience, and that neither automatic pilot levels of denial – nor business as usual mentalities - will govern our actions.

OVEC Board co-chair John Taylor holds up a bucket of the coal waste sludge collected at the slurry “pond” failure disaster site in Martin County, KY.OVEC staffer Janet Fout holds up a photo of the disaster taken by Paul Justice. The coal company officials in the front row had strained expressions on their faces. Perhaps they were thinking that a similar “pond” failure at the Brushy Fork impoundment could have disastrous consequences for the town of Whitesville, WV.


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