KENTUCKY sludge spill - a year latergreenspun.com : LUSENET : Current News - Homefront Preparations : One Thread
Residents worry about health effects a year after massive sludge spill in eastern Kentucky
By Roger Alford, Associated Press, 10/10/2001 03:07
INEZ, Ky. (AP) Gone are nearly all visible traces of the 250 million gallons of thick black goo that spilled from a mountaintop coal mine pond a year ago, burying lawns up to 7 feet deep, killing fish in two streams and fouling drinking water supplies.
But residents of this small town near the West Virginia border still worry that contaminants left over from the spill last Oct. 11 might be harming their health.
''I don't believe anyone is satisfied with the cleanup,'' said Larry Preece, one of the area residents suing Martin County Coal Co. to recoup damages from the spill. ''It's like looking at foreign property. You don't recognize it.''
Arsenic, mercury and other contaminants were found in the sludge, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, based at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Agency spokesman John Florence said the contaminants pose no short-term health hazards and are being evaluated for long-term effects.
Residents say the sludge, made up of mud and residue washed from freshly mined coal, has been tracked into their homes and cleanup crews have been unable to get all of it off their lawns.
''Our concern is that people will become ill over a gradual course of time and nobody will do anything about it,'' Preece said.
Federal and state regulatory agencies still are trying to determine exactly what caused the sludge pond to spill. They agree that a mine shaft beneath the pond caved in. At issue is whether the collapse was caused by the weight of the sludge or some natural geologic event.
An engineering firm, working under contract for the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, said in a report that the spill started as a trickle and grew over time. The engineers said water seeping from the impoundment flowed through weathered rocks and coal, weakening them, and finally resulting in the ''catastrophic failure.''
The company claims it was an act of God, and says therefore it shouldn't have to pay huge settlements to the residents who have filed at least nine federal and state lawsuits.
Residents claim the spill was the result of coal company executives who put more value on profits than people.
''If God played a part in this, it was in the fact that nobody died that night,'' Preece said.
The Office of Inspector General is continuing to investigate whether the Mine Safety and Health Administration was lax in enforcing regulations that could have headed off the environmental disaster, which the EPA called the worst ever in the Southeast.
The company has spent $40 million so far on the cleanup.
A hurriedly built earthen dike was all that kept the sludge out of Carol Tiller's house a year ago. Her septic system didn't survive the onslaught.
''It's basically an open sewer,'' she said. ''Sometimes the smell forces us to go inside.''
Glenn Cornette, a bass fisherman, had always been able to catch all the bait he wanted out of Coldwater Creek, just feet from his home. Now, he has to drive for miles to collect minnows.
The company has been ordered to stock fish, frogs, salamanders and other aquatic life in both Coldwater and Wolf creeks. That hasn't been done yet, said Bill Marcum, a spokesman for Massey Energy, parent company of Martin County Coal.
The restocking won't be done until after an assessment of stream quality is completed.
Marcum said the company has taken extensive steps to protect against the possibility of another spill and plans to abandon the pond that leaked.
Eric Somerville, an environmental scientist with the EPA in Atlanta, said Martin County Coal could be required to do more dredging if the assessments reveal additional contaminants in the stream channel.
''This was a massive amount of material that buried these flood plains,'' he said. ''There would have been a residual amount of material left behind. It's that residual that we want to be sure won't have a long-term adverse effect on aquatic organisms or water quality.''
The stream restoration could take three to five years to complete, said Mark York, spokesman for the Kentucky Cabinet for Natural Resources and Environmental Protection.
-- Anonymous, October 10, 2001