Sunday, October 22, 2000

Ky. congressman calls for waste study

By Joseph Gerth
The Courier-Journal

        LEXINGTON, Ky. — U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers is calling on the federal government to look for methods besides impoundment to dispose of mine waste as new worries surfaced about heavy metals in the coal slurry that spilled into Eastern Kentucky streams and rivers.

        The Oct. 11 spill, which officials have called one of the worst environmental disasters ever in the region, released a quarter-billion gallons of a lava-like mixture. The impoundment failure has closed school systems, shut down water systems, wiped out aquatic life along two streams and threatened fish all the way to the Ohio River.

        The study Mr. Rogers is seeking would look at other impoundments in Kentucky and other states to determine whether they are the best way to dispose of such waste, or whether an alternative exists that would not put people, communities and the environment at risk.

        He called for the study Friday, a day after speaking with J. Davitt McAteer, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. Both agreed that the American Academy of Sciences should study whether the current system of disposing of waste is safe and adequate or whether alternative methods are available.

        Mr. Rogers asked that $2 million for the study be included in the budget for the current fiscal year. He said Republican leaders have agreed the program should be funded and Mr. McAteer said the Mine Safety and Health Administration wants it to go forward as well.

        Mr. McAteer, who has already directed his inspectors to begin surveying similar impoundments for problems, said the study would be the first of its kind. He said MSHA would have an agreement with the Academy of Sciences within 30 days after an appropriation is made and that the academy would report back to Congress within nine months.

        The problem facing people in the mountains, however, isn't the 653 other slurry impoundments around the country — it's trying to dig out from the one that broke last week.

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- Ky. congressman calls for waste study
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