Officials: No quick fix for massive sludge spill threatening Ohio Rivergreenspun.com : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread
Officials: No quick fix for massive sludge spill threatening Ohio River
By MARTHA BRYSON HODEL The Associated Press 10/21/00 1:27 AM
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- Environmental officials fear that a coal waste pond leaking noxious sludge will continue to threaten ground water and the Ohio River.
Ten days after 210 million gallons of sludge spilled from Martin County Coal Corp.'s 70-acre sediment pond, investigators "are still speculating on the cause," said Mark Mackowiak, a Coast Guard petty officer and spokesman for the federal cleanup team.
The best explanation, so far, is that the settling pond collapsed into abandoned mine tunnels, he said.
"They believe the old mine is full," Mackowiak said. "But they can't get in there yet because of the condition of the pond and the mine itself."
Heavy metals -- including mercury, lead, arsenic, copper and chromium -- have been found in the sludge. The metals settle in ponds used to hold waste from the coal cleaning process.
The metals "pose no hazard to public water supplies with full treatment," Mackowiak said.
The coal company near Inez, Ky., about 140 miles east of Lexington, and federal and state agencies are working to replace public water supplies in communities affected by the spill, in many cases trucking water in tankers.
Many households on both sides of the river still depend on private wells and natural springs.
The spill is moving slowly downstream; its leading edge was detected Friday in the Ohio River, three miles downstream from the mouth of the Big Sandy.
"The spill has only moved three miles in two days," said Rhonda Barnes of the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, an eight-state compact that monitors river pollutants.
"At this point, the effects on the Ohio River are unknown," she said. "We have never dealt with a spill of this magnitude."
Unlike an oil spill, in which the pollutant floats on the water, the coal sludge has choked about 70 miles of waterways with a lava-like fluid, said Kentucky Natural Resources Secretary James Bickford.
Cleanup crews have tried vacuum trucks, makeshift dams using bales of straw as filters and skimming booms -- all with limited success.
"Petroleum stays on top of the water. It can be skimmed; it can be 'boomed,"' Bickford said. "This stuff is top to bottom, bank to bank."
The suspended solids present the most pressing threat to water supplies, according to a news release issued by the federal and state response team.
"High turbidity levels can smother aquatic life," the release said. It "also has caused difficulty at water treatment facilities because the suspended material clogs the filter systems."
Wayne Davis, of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, said officials are assuming the worst for fish and other aquatic life.
"Because of the black water, we can't see the dead fish," he said.
-- Martin Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org), October 22, 2000
Heavy metals -- including mercury, lead, arsenic, copper and chromium and dead fish. No Problem, sounds like the rest of the water around the world. Where do these people come from?
-- Martin Thompson (email@example.com), October 22, 2000.