Front Porch Blog

AV objects to secrecy of sludge dam safety study

Appalachian Voices has filed a Freedom of Information Act request objecting to the secrecy over a new federal study focused on the safety of 15 high-risk sludge dams.

The study, by the federal Office of Surface Mine and Reclamation Enforcement, will be the first to combine elements of dam volume and downstream populations in a risk assessment. Although the engineering work is complete, release of the study is being held up so that coal companies and the state of West Virginia can review it, OSMRE said.

“Given the current state of emergency and severe flooding in West Virginia, we believe that this information has a direct bearing on vital issues of public safety,” Appalachian Voices said in a letter to OSMRE.

“We think that the government should not, indeed cannot in good conscience, wait for the document to be prepared in such a way as to satisfy stakeholders, but rather, that engineering data and draft conclusions must be released to the public immediately.”

Until recently, no federal office had taken a systematic approach to studying the safety of these earthen dams.

A previous FOIA request to the OSMRE this spring by Appalachian Voices revealed that since the late 1990s, the government has studied the safety of only a handful of “randomly selected” sludge dams. Those selected were among the smallest and newest in the region.