Tuesday, October 24, 2000

Tristate officials plan for sludge

A similar spill unlikely in Ohio

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Worker operates a dredge to remove coal sludge from Coldwater Creek in Eastern Kentucky.
(Patrick Reddy photos)
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        By the time a mass of coal sludge makes its way down the Ohio River to Cincinnati, water experts say they will be ready to deal with it.

        And, Ohioans needn't worry that a spill similar to the 210-million gallon coal waste leak from a mountaintop impoundment in Eastern Kentucky would happen in the Buckeye state.

        The plume, which is moving about a half-mile an hour from the confluence of the Big Sandy River at the Kentucky-West Virginia border, is expected to be heavily diluted and settled by the time it reaches local water intakes on Halloween.

        “Our plan is to treat the lighter portion of the spill and close our intakes during the heavier part of the spill,” said William Knecht, acting director of Cincinnati's water works. “We have three to four days of water storage, which we believe is sufficient to bypass the heavy portion of the spill.”

        Officials in Kentucky and Ohio have been tracking the process of 210 million gallons of coal slurry that was spilled into waterways Oct. 11, after a Martin County Coal Co. mine collapsed near Inez, Ky.

        Northern Kentucky Water Service District officials said the sludge has not yet reached Ashland, Ky., and samples of the dirty coal waste are undergoing treatability tests.

        In Kentucky, the slurry containment pond — where coal is washed to reduce sulfur and other contaminants — was above a sealed-off section of an active coal mine.

Little remains in the coal sludge impoundment that failed near Inez, Ky.
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        When the mine collapsed, officials with the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration say, the containment pond failed. That sent a torrent of sludge rushing through the mine into creeks and rivers.

        But that's not a danger in Ohio, even if a containment pond collapsed.

        “The mines here are sufficiently deep that it couldn't discharge into a waterway,” said Tom Hines, environmental supervisor for the Natural Resources Department, which inspects mines and containment ponds.

        There are four active containment ponds in the state similar to the one that collapsed in Kentucky, and only two of those have underground workings, he said.

        The four ponds are in Meigs, Vinton/Jackson, Morgan and Belmont counties.

        There is a smaller active pond in Tuscarawas County and four inactive ponds in Monroe, Perry and Harrison counties that are being reclaimed and contain little, if any, water.

        There are about 150 containment ponds in Kentucky, officials with the state's Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement Department confirmed Monday. They could not immediately say which of those are built over underground mines.

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