Posts Tagged ‘Water’

Coal-related Spills Connect Us All

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014 - posted by tom
We all have rivers we love, such as the Moormans in Virginia, my favorite place for a swim. Unfortunately, many of these places are under threat of pollution, including Fields Creek, the Kanawha River and Dan River, the three waterways polluted by the past month's coal-related spills.

We all have rivers we love, such as the Moormans in Virginia, my favorite place for a swim. Unfortunately, many of these places are under threat of pollution, including Fields Creek, the Kanawha River and Dan River, the three waterways polluted by the past month’s coal-related spills.

You probably have a favorite waterway near your home where you like to cast a fishing line, paddle with friends, or swim with your children. For me, it’s the North Fork of the Moormans River, a lively mountain creek running off the Blue Ridge.

Over the last several weeks, with each report from our staff on the coal-related water crises in West Virginia and North Carolina, I couldn’t help but imagine the Moormans being poisoned by a mysterious chemical called MCHM, choked by toxic coal ash, or fouled by coal slurry.

In fact, it is my river that is threatened. And your river, too. We are all potential casualties of the kind of regulatory failures, political cronyism, and corporate avarice at the root of the three major water pollution crises that have occurred in our region in just the last six weeks.

By the same token, it’s our shared connection to the creeks and rivers running through our lives that unites us in the fight to protect our waters, and that’s what gives me hope.

First, the Freedom Industries chemical spill last month near Charleston, W.Va., left 300,000 people without safe tap water. Then one of Duke Energy’s coal ash dumps in North Carolina spilled into the Dan River, the third largest coal-ash spill in the U.S. Just a week later, a pipe at a Patriot Coal facility in West Virginia broke, oozing toxic coal slurry into a tributary of the Kanawha River.

Any one of these events would have served as a wake-up call about the vulnerability of our waters. Combined, they have touched off a national conversation about the widespread and deep cracks in the system that led to the disasters.

Appalachian Voices is a prominent voice in that conversation. Our team of water quality specialists responded to each crisis, taking water samples, documenting the incident, speaking with local residents, and providing the press with information and perspective that counters the “everything’s fine” mantra from the corporate and government flaks.

Our aim is to ensure that these spills are not allowed to pass into the nation’s distant memory without impelling real change in how our precious water resources are protected.

For our waters,
Tom

>> Visit AppalachianWaterWatch.org for data on the spills
>> Visit AV in the News for highlights of press coverage

Another Coal-related Spill Reported in West Virginia

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014 - posted by Jamie Goodman

Field Update from Erin, 10 a.m., February 12, 2014
We tested Fields Creek where the slurry spill entered the creek and upstream for electrical conductivity, which indicates the level of charged particles like salts, heavy metals and other pollutants associated with coal. The conductivity upstream was 391 μS/cm (microsiemens per centimeter) while the value below the spill was 1016 μS/cm. For reference, Central Appalachian streams should measure roughly between 300 and 500 μS/cm.

There is clearly a high level of pollutants from the spill in the immediate vicinity of the spill. Test results here.

So how are West Virginia officials responding to the spill? Check out this video that my colleague Matt Wasson put together:

Field Update from Erin, 11 p.m., February 11, 2014
Several staff responded to the spill this afternoon to collect samples and documentation. We were able to collect samples at the entrance of the coal prep plant, which is 1/4 to 3/4 of a mile downstream of the broken pipe causing the spill. We also collected samples at the end of the Fields Creek, just before it reaches the Kanawha River. We plan to analyze samples for heavy metals, total suspended solids, and organic compounds and will make those results available as soon as possible.

The water in the creek was extremely turbid and was a dark grey, almost black color. Significant sediment had already built up on the banks. We also noticed the same sweet smell we encountered during the crude MCHM spill. There have been several different reports regarding what coal processing chemicals might be in the slurry. Secretary Randy Huffman of the state Department of Environmental Protection said that the plant had used MCHM in the past, but had switched to polyethylene glycol or polypropylene glycol. We hope that as this situation continues to develop, accurate facts are released more quickly than in the recent crude MCHM/PHP spill.

- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – -

Update 7:03 p.m., February 11, 2014
Current reports put the spill at 108,000 gallons of slurry, affecting 6 miles of Fields Creek and, despite plant workers’ efforts to stem the spill, discharging some slurry into the Kanawha River. The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has acknowledged the gravity of the incident, with acting director of the Division of Mining and Reclamation, Harold Ward, stating in Ken Ward’s latest update, “There has been a significant environmental impact.”

A previous incident apparently occurred at the same plant in November 2013, with the plant “discharging black water into south hollow stream and leading to a discoloration of Field’s creek.”

Our folks on the scene worked until nearly dark to gather samples and document the incident; more info to come as news filters in.

- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – -

According to several news reports, a coal slurry spill of “significant” size has taken place in Kanawha County, W.Va. As reported by Ken Ward, Jr., in The Charleston Gazette, the spill of slurry — a toxic byproduct of washing toxins off of coal after mining — happened between midnight and 5:30 a.m. this morning when a pipe ruptured between a processing plant on Fields Creek and an impoundment where the slurry is stored. According to a spokesperson for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, there are no drinking water intakes “in the immediate vicinity of the spill.”

Members of the Appalachian Voices Water Watch team are in West Virginia and heading to the scene nowstay tuned for updates and an on-site report as we learn more about this developing story.

First photos from a slurry spill in Kanawha County, W.Va.

First photos from a slurry spill in Kanawha County, W.Va. — visit Flickr for more images and high-resolution versions

The handling of slurry in the coal-mining regions of Appalachia has a long and contentious history that was revealed to the world by the Buffalo Creek disaster in 1972 that killed 125 West Virginians and left more than 4,000 homeless. Beyond the threat of massive surface impoundment failures, slurry injected in abandoned underground mines has permanently poisoned the wells of thousands in Appalachia. Check out our story in the August/September 2012 issue of The Appalachian Voice, “Buried Blackwater: Revealing Coal’s Dirty Secret” to learn more.

MORE INFO

Wary and Waiting

Monday, February 10th, 2014 - posted by meredith

By Karen Smith Zornes

I didn’t have a problem with the spill at first; I thought, “Accidents happen.” But when it came time for us to flush, I had an asthma attack from the smell. I went outside for fresh air and tried to flush again later — and had another asthma attack. After our flush, our water still looked blue and still had the smell. So I waited for three days after the flush to shower, and got a skin rash from the water.

After that I called the water company. The man at West Virginia American Water told me the strong smell meant the water was safe to use. I told him about my blisters, and he said it was probably my shampoo, though I’ve used the same shampoo for years. I asked him about the water discoloration, and he said I must have spilled something in it. He made me feel like an idiot. He told me to keep flushing my lines and that someone would be out to test my water. Four days have passed, and we haven’t heard anything.

We’ve spent hundreds of dollars on new filters for the fridge and the home, bottled water, and gas to drive to get water and supplies. We’re spending money we don’t have. The money we’ve spent on water was supposed to pay my electric bill.

Being a three-time cancer survivor makes me wary about the long-term effects of this. I don’t think the customers should be the ones to pick up the bill for this disaster.

Karen Smith Zornes is a concerned citizen living in Boone County, W.Va.

Forty Minutes from Fresh Water

Monday, February 10th, 2014 - posted by meredith

By S. Rhodes

My community is partially in Putnam and partially in Cabell County. I have many elderly neighbors, and yes, there are also children and handicapped individuals that need access to clean water. Water distribution in this area was cut off on Jan. 18.

I own a small business that I run out of my home and have been unemployed during this water crisis. Needless to say, driving an hour each day to Charleston for water is causing financial hardship, and is just not feasible for myself and many others here. The closest bottled water distribution available is in Nitro, W.Va., 40 minutes away, and it ends soon.

We are really just getting the chemical heavy in our tap. The smell alone, with no physical contact, is burning our eyes, nose and mouth, and it’s causing headaches and even chest pains in myself, my husband and many of our neighbors. Our main water lines have not been flushed, so the multiple times that we have flushed our house is just pulling more chemical into our lines and tanks, filling our homes with that noxious smell.

S. Rhodes is an artist in Putnam County, W.Va.

Fighting for Clean Water in Virginia: Standing up to Coal Industry Bullies

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014 - posted by eric
Kelly Branch

Kelly Branch and several other tributaries of Callahan Creek, near the town of Appalachia Virginia are the subject of a new lawsuit for selenium pollution. (Photo: SAMS)

Today, Appalachian Voices along with our allies in Virginia filed a lawsuit against Penn Virginia for water polluted by selenium coming from abandoned mines on their land. This lawsuit is one in a series of suits aimed at cleaning up selenium pollution in Callahan Creek.

Callahan Creek flows south through a series of small communities and into the town of Appalachia in Wise County, Va. Along the way it passes a number of coal mines including the Kelly Branch Mine and the Stonega Slurry Impoundment. Last year, the same group of allies initiating this lawsuit filed legal actions for selenium pollution against the operators of both of those facilities. The operator of the Kelly Branch Mine, A&G Coal, submitted a report in response showing that much of the pollution in streams surrounding that mine was coming from old mines on Penn Virginia-owned property. That report is the primary basis of the lawsuit filed today.

Water monitoring by Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS) has shown that there are major selenium problems in Callahan Creek and its tributaries including Kelly Branch. Selenium is extremely toxic to fish at very low levels. It causes reproductive failure, deformities and death.

This two headed trout was deformed by selenium pollution.

Pennsylvania-based Penn Virginia owns nearly one-quarter of the land in Wise County and is the county’s largest landholder. Essentially, landholding companies like Penn Virginia operate by leasing their land to mining, natural gas and timber companies and collecting royalties from those companies. Once mines are abandoned, many continue to pollute nearby streams. Currently in Virginia, these types of pollution discharges are not regulated, so there is no one treating or monitoring them. These legacy mining discharges are a major source of pollution in Southwest Virginia and throughout Appalachia, but no one wants to claim responsibility for them. Through this lawsuit we hope to force large landholding companies like Penn Virginia to take responsibility for the pollution coming from the lands they own.

As required by the Clean Water Act, before filing this lawsuit we filed a Notice of Intent to Sue letter in late 2013. The purpose of such letters is to give polluters and state agencies a chance to address the pollution problems before a lawsuit is filed. Rather than trying to fix their pollution problems, Penn Virginia instead chose to use bully tactics and threaten members of SAMS. The company sent cease and desist letters to several members of SAMS banning them from entering Penn Virginia land that includes a family cemetery and a church that several of them attend.

The Sierra Club, Appalachian Voices and Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards are represented in this matter by Joe Lovett and Isak Howell of Appalachian Mountain Advocates.

>> Find out more from our press release here
>> Read the legal filing here

Appalachian Voices and Partners Challenge Kentucky’s Weakening of Water Pollution Standards for Selenium

Friday, December 13th, 2013 - posted by eric

This two headed trout was deformed by selenium pollution. Today, we have taken action to keep EPA and Kentucky from allowing pollution like this to get worse.

Earlier today Appalachian Voices and a number of partner organizations sued the EPA over their approval of Kentucky’s new, weaker standard for selenium pollution.

Selenium is extremely toxic to fish, and causes deformities and reproductive failure at extremely low levels. The pollutant is commonly discharged from coal mines and coal ash ponds, but currently Kentucky does not regulate its discharge from these facilities.

These new standards were proposed at the behest of coal industry groups, likely motivated by citizen groups’ success at requiring companies in other states to clean up their selenium pollution. We have also seen the state governments of Virginia and West Virginia take steps towards making similar rollbacks to their own standards, making the EPA’s approval of Kentucky’s weakened standards even more alarming.
(more…)

Groups Challenge EPA Decision to Gut Clean Water Protections in Kentucky

Friday, December 13th, 2013 - posted by eric

New Guidelines for Coal Mining Pollutant Fail to Protect Waterways and Wildlife

Contacts:
Eric Chance, Appalachian Voices 828-262-1500 eric@appvoices.org
Sean Sarah, Sierra Club 330 338-3740 sean.sarah@sierraclub.org
Doug Doerrfeld, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth 606-784-9226 dartherdoer@gmail.com|
Judy Petersen, Kentucky Waterways Alliance 502 589-8008 Judy@kwalliance.org

Louisville, KY – Today, community and environmental groups took action against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for a recent decision allowing Kentucky to weaken its water quality protections for selenium, a pollutant common to mountaintop removal coal mines. This new standard, which tests selenium levels in fish tissue instead of in rivers and streams where mine wastewater is discharged, is strikingly similar to one the Bush Administration rejected as too weak to protect sensitive aquatic species. The lawsuit alleges that the standard fails to meet protections in the Clean Water Act.

“There’s simply no scientific or legal justification for this EPA to approve a standard worse than one rejected by the Bush administration,” said Alice Howell, Chair of the Cumberland Chapter of the Sierra Club. “In doing so, EPA has made a bad situation much worse. The new selenium standard endangers the health of Kentucky’s already compromised waterways while opening the door for other states to do the same.”

In mid-November, the EPA allowed Kentucky to change the way it monitors selenium pollution from surface mines, a change suggested by coal industry lobbyists, who appear to be motivated by citizen groups’ successful enforcement of the existing protections elsewhere in the region.

Selenium pollution is known to accumulate in fish and aquatic wildlife over time, causing deformities and reproductive failures. When a coal company destroys a mountain to get at the coal underneath, much of what’s left is dumped into nearby valleys and streams. This pollutes the local waterways with selenium, among other substances that pose a threat to fish and humans. Valley fills are a major source of the selenium pollution found at mountaintop removal mines.

“We repeatedly urged both EPA and the Commonwealth to have the US Geological Survey and US Fish and Wildlife Service look at the science behind the new standard. Both federal agencies were instrumental in the rejection of the prior Bush administration proposals. Ignoring our pleas, they moved to finalize the new criteria. We felt we had no other option to protect our waterways than to go forward with our legal challenge,” Judy Petersen, executive director of Kentucky Waterways Alliance stated.

In their lawsuit, the groups argue that the EPA decision was arbitrary and capricious. First, EPA violated the Clean Water Act by allowing Kentucky to institute a scientifically indefensible standard that fails to protect sensitive wildlife. Second, both citizens and EPA raised concerns about the difficulty of implementing a fish tissue based standard, yet EPA approved this standard based on a vague letter from Kentucky officials about how the new standard would be enforced. Kentucky’s assurances are not part of Kentucky state law and are thus unenforceable; therefore, EPA is not entitled to rely upon these assurances in approving the new standard.

“This new fish tissue based standard is just a novel way of letting polluters off the hook for poisoning our fish and waterways,” said Eric Chance, water quality specialist for Appalachian Voices. “The main point of this standard is to protect fish, but testing fish tissue can never tell you how many fish the selenium pollution already killed. A fish tissue based standard creates many more problems than just the ones mentioned in the letter EPA relied on to make this decision; I don’t think EPA or Kentucky have seriously thought through how this rule would work in the real world.”

Doug Doerrfeld of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth added, “KFTC and our allies have worked for years to make EPA fully aware of the systemic failures of Kentucky’s Energy and Environment Cabinet to protect our commonwealth’s people, waters and environment. In light of this history it is disgraceful that EPA would approve a weakened selenium standard that will not only leave aquatic life at risk but will make citizen enforcement all but impossible.”

This action was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky. Sierra Club, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, Appalachian Voices, and the Kentucky Waterways Alliance are represented in this case by Ben Luckett and Joe Lovett of Appalachian Mountain Advocates.

###

EPA decision on toxic mining waste leaves Kentuckians, other Appalachians at risk

Friday, November 15th, 2013 - posted by eric

Contact: Erin Savage, Water Quality Specialist, 828-262-1500, erin@appvoices.org
Cat McCue, Communications Director, 434-293-6373, cat@appvoices.org

Washington DC – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today approved Kentucky’s changes to how the state measures selenium, a toxic pollutant discharged from many mountaintop removal coal mines. Even at very low concentrations, selenium is extremely toxic to fish, causing physical deformities and reproductive failure.

Kentucky had proposed, and today EPA approved, a more complicated system for detecting selenium. The new rule will require testing for the pollutant in fish tissue rather than more straightforward tests that directly sample the concentration in water.

The decision bodes ill for Virginia and West Virginia, whose regulators are poised to begin their own review of how to monitor and regulate selenium in those states.

Kentucky has a history of major problems with enforcement of the Clean Water Act with regards to coal mining. Appalachian Voices, in 2010, exposed thousands of Clean Water Act violations by major coal companies in Kentucky and the failure of state regulators to take enforcement action. Subsequent legal action by Appalachian Voices and a coalition of other groups ultimately led to the largest Clean Water Act fine ever levied in Kentucky against the coal industry.

Appalachian Voices issued the following statement from Erin Savage, Water Quality Specialist on today’s EPA decision:

“The EPA has acted in direct contradiction to its mission by allowing Kentucky to weaken environmental protection for the streams and rivers that Kentuckians use every day for drinking water, fishing, swimming and many other uses.

“Kentucky has proven it can’t, or won’t, sufficiently enforce relatively simple environmental rules. While this new selenium standard may be scientifically defensible, according to the EPA, it is so complicated that it will be difficult to implement and virtually unenforceable. It is unlikely the state has the ability, or the intent, to keep selenium pollution out of the water.

“This sends a signal to other states like Virginia and West Virginia that they, too, can weaken environmental protection for the streams and rivers that their citizens use every day for drinking water, fishing, swimming and many other uses.

“The complex new rule will also make it extremely difficult for citizens to exercise their rights under the Clean Water Act to protect waters they care about.”

****************************
Appalachian Voices is an award-winning, environmental non-profit committed to protecting the natural resources of central and southern Appalachia, focusing on reducing coal’s impact on the region and advancing our vision for a cleaner energy future. Founded in 1997, we are headquartered in Boone, N.C. with offices in Charlottesville, Va.; Knoxville, Tn. and Washington, D.C.

EPA Helps Kentucky Roll Back Water Quality Protections

Friday, November 15th, 2013 - posted by Erin

Above are blue gills that were collected below the site of TVA’s 2008 Kingston Coal Ash spill. They all have “pop-eye”, a deformity caused by selenium pollution where their eyes bulge out of their heads. These fish had selenium levels of 2.5-6.5ppm, well below Kentucky’s newly accepted standard of 8.6 ppm for fish tissue.

Just today, after several months of delays, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced its decisions on the Kentucky Department of Water’s (DOW) amendments to the Kentucky Water Quality Regulations. Unfortunately, the EPA has approved substantive changes to the selenium freshwater chronic standard that will not adequately protect aquatic life and will be difficult, if not impossible to enforce at mountaintop removal coal mining sites throughout eastern Kentucky.

In theory, states review their water quality standards every three years in an effort to make sure these standards are up-to-date with current science and are protective of aquatic life. In some cases, however, the review becomes an opportunity for special interests to influence state agencies. This year, under pressure from the coal industry, the Kentucky DOW proposed to weaken selenium standards. Standards are used to set permit limits for industries that may discharge pollutants into public waterways. Though some mines in Kentucky are known to discharge selenium into streams, the Kentucky general permit for valley fills does not currently include selenium permit limits.

Selenium is a naturally occurring element that can be released into streams through mountaintop removal coal mining. Once in the water, selenium bioaccumulates in fish and other aquatic life, increasing in concentration up the food chain. Selenium is toxic to aquatic life at very low levels. For these reasons, Appalachian Voices and our allies have been working to challenge Kentucky’s proposed selenium standards.

Kentucky DOW proposed to raise the acute selenium standard from 20 ug/L in the water column to 258 ug/L in the water column. They also proposed changing the chronic standard of 5 ug/L to a more complicated system where a level of 5 ug/L in the water column would not be enforceable, but instead would trigger the need to sample fish tissue. The new chronic standard would be 8.6 ug/g in fish tissue, or 19.2 ug/g in egg/ovary tissue. The 5 ug/L water concentration would only be an enforceable limit if no fish were available for sampling.
(more…)

The Clock is Ticking on Coal Ash: EPA Given 60 Days to Set Deadline on Regulation of Toxic Coal Waste

Thursday, October 31st, 2013 - posted by brian
This week, a federal court gave the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 60 days to propose a deadline for rules regulating toxic coal ash. Photo from southeastcoalash.org

This week, a federal court gave the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 60 days to propose a deadline for rules regulating toxic coal ash. Photo from southeastcoalash.org

After years of delays and setbacks, the clock is finally ticking on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to propose a deadline for federal regulations of coal ash.

On Tuesday, a federal judge gave the EPA 60 days to file a written submission setting forth a proposed deadline for its review and revision of regulations concerning coal ash, along with its legal justification for the proposed deadline.

This victory for clean water and healthy communities came almost month after the court sided with Appalachian Voices and our allies, agreeing that the EPA has a duty to stop the delays and issue federally enforceable safeguards for the toxic coal waste. You can read the memorandum issued this week by the court here.
(more…)