From: Judy Molland, Care2, More from this Affiliate
Published February 13, 2014 09:18 AM

More contaminant troubles for West Virginia

On February 11, just one month after a chemical spill tainted drinking water for 300,000 people in and around the state's capital of Charleston, West Virginia experienced another environmental disaster: 100,000 gallons of coal slurry pour into stream.

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From The West Virginia Gazette:

"More than 100,000 gallons of coal slurry poured into an eastern Kanawha County stream Tuesday in what officials were calling a 'significant spill' from a Patriot Coal processing facility.

Emergency officials and environmental inspectors said roughly six miles of Fields Creek had been blackened and that a smaller amount of the slurry made it into the Kanawha River near Chesapeake.

'This has had significant, adverse environmental impact to Fields Creek and an unknown amount of impact to the Kanawha River,' said Secretary Randy Huffman of the state Department of Environmental Protection."

State officials in West Virginia are scrambling to contain the coal slurry spill, which could affect the Kanawha River, just as they scrambled to contain that toxic chemical spill last month that released the toxic chemical 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol, or MCHM, into the Elk River, a tributary of that same Kanawha River.

We already know about the many toxic effects of coal, and now here’s another one: malfunctioning equipment.

The spill at Patriot Coal was apparently caused when a valve inside a slurry line malfunctioned, carrying material from the preparation plant to a separate disposal site, not to an impoundment, according to officials from the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

Coal slurry or sludge is a waste fluid produced by washing coal with water and chemicals prior to shipping the coal to market. It contains a variety of substances that are likely more toxic than heavy metals, like iron, manganese, aluminum and selenium.

Several Unanswered Questions

Companies are required to immediately report any spills to the DEP. However, although the valve broke sometime between 2:30 and 5:30 early on the morning of February 11, Patriot Coal did not call the DEP to alert them of the leak until 7:40 that morning.

In addition, even though there was an alarm system in place, the alarm failed, so pumps continued to send the toxic slurry through the system. A secondary containment wall around the valve proved to be insufficient; the pumps continued to send slurry to the broken valve, which became overwhelmed and the slurry overflowed the wall and made its way to the creek.

Officials at the company announced immediately that containment efforts and cleanup activities were underway.

Read more at ENN affiliate Care2.

Water pollution image via Shutterstock.

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