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SLUDGE: BILLS, SPILLS, AND ILLS

Sludge safety bill introduced in WV House of Delegates

On February 15, a sludge safety bill was introduced in the WV House of Delegates. HB 4583 aims to ban the construction of new sludge dams, the enlargement of existing dams, and underground injection of sludge. It would also require the state Department of Environmental Protection to conduct a thorough safety evaluation of existing sludge dams, including accurate mapping of nearby underground mines. The bill has six sponsors: Larry Barker (D)-Boone County, Lidella Hrutkay (D)-Logan, Charlene Marshall (D)-Monongalia, Barbara Hatfield (D)-Kanawha, Cliff Moore (D)-McDowell, and Sally Susman (D)-Raleigh. Senate action this session will likely be a resolution to gather facts on sludge alternatives. Please contact your legislators and either urge them to support the bill or thank them if they are already sponsors.

The legislation is the result of hard work by the Sludge Safety Project of CRMW, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, and Concerned Citizens of Mingo County, who presented their case to legislators on January 10 and February 1, and by the WV E-Council lobby team.

Massey sludge spill in Coal River

On Saturday, Dec. 10, 2005, a CRMW volunteer just happened to be in the office when a concerned citizen with a bottle of black water knocked on the door. He alerted the volunteer that the river was running black. We called the DEP, took photos, and alerted the press. The DEP estimated the Marfork preparation plant spill at 10,000 gallons (we think it was a lot more) polluting five miles (actually a lot more—just because it’s diluted doesn’t mean it’s gone) from a faulty pump that pumps sludge into the Brushy Fork sludge dam. The Raleigh-Boone Public Service District had to shut down its intake from the Coal River. Yes, some of the sludge got into the drinking water for the Whitesville and Sylvester area. This was the same day Massey was giving away gifts at a Christmas party in Kentucky. Massey had at least two spills in Kentucky in 2005 and at least two at its Bandmill site in West Virginia.

Sludge in well water and dam safety fears

In Mingo County, concerned citizens are voicing their distress over underground sludge injection. Their wells are poisoned, causing horrible health effects—kidney stones in young children, liver damage, gall bladder damage, etc.—with no sign of clean water being provided any time soon. There are over 300 sludge injection permits in West Virginia, and some injection was done without a permit. Massey has recently applied for an injection permit at its Performance Coal site at Montcoal, WV, in the Coal River Valley.

Meanwhile, citizens living and working downstream of West Virginia’s 150 or so sludge dams worry about another disaster such as Buffalo Creek, WV or Martin County, KY. The Shumate’s Branch dam, just 400 yards from Marsh Fork Elementary has received several safety citations over the years, yet there is no plan to build the students a new school in a safer location in their community.

Please contact your delegates and senators and let them know you want to live in a safer, healthier state. Ask them to support sludge safety legislation.

Keep updated on sludge issues at www.sludgesafety.org .

©2005

Coal River 

Mountain Watch