Brushy Fork Impoundment Victory
Massey Coal Ordered to
Monitor for Mercury, Other Toxics
by Vivian Stockman
For years, Coal River Mountain Watch, the United Mine
Workers of America and OVEC have challenged the WV Department of
Environmental Protection and Marfork Coal Co. (a Massey Energy
subsidiary) to take seriously citizen concerns about the states
largest coal sludge impoundment, Brushy Fork.
This gargantuan lake o toxic goo, which looms over
folks living near Whitesville and is built over underground mines, was
engineered by the same people who worked on the failed Martin County
Coal Co. (another Massey subsidiary) impoundment the one that, in
October 2000, spewed over 306 million gallons of sludge into about 100
miles of waterways along the Kentucky-West Virginia border.
Often, when both Marfork and DEP have tried to ignore
our Brushy Fork concerns, OVEC and Coal River Mountain Watch have taken
our grievances to the Surface Mine Board.
As a result of one of our appeals to the board,
Massey was forced to reveal that there is mercury in the impoundment.
The board ordered Massey to monitor groundwater near
the Brushy Fork site for the toxic heavy metals mercury, lead, arsenic,
cadmium, cobalt, and copper (all of which are present in coal) an
action that, as far as we know, is unprecedented and could be extended
to any of the other 135 permitted coal waste slurry impoundments in the
Surprise, surprise. Massey didnt like our victory
and appealed the boards ruling. Apparently, Massey didnt want to
pay for monitoring the groundwater they say it will cost $18,000 a
year. Poor guys only rake in over $200 million a year from that one
subsidiary alone. They prefer to have about 7 BILLION gallons of sludge
stored in the headwaters of the Coal River without having to know what
is happening to the groundwater.
In September, we appeared in Raleigh County Circuit
Court to defend our victory.
Knowing about the mercury, the DEP decided to not
fight against us (like it did during our 2001 appeal), but instead filed
a brief supporting the boards ruling requiring the groundwater
monitoring! The judge agreed with OVEC, CRMW and DEP that Marfork should
indeed test the groundwater for mercury and other toxic heavy metals.
This is the first time that any coal company
has been required to conduct heavy metal monitoring in the groundwater
down-gradient from any impoundment.
Many thanks to attorney Mary Ann Maul and
hydrogeologist Rick Eades for their great work on this case, which may
have implications far beyond this one impoundment!